Devotionals
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Pastor Debbie's E-Spire - June 13, 2019

Why Do People Need the Church?

Reflecting with the Vision Team

 

**We want to hear why YOU think people need the church! Reply to this email, and your response will be shared with the Vision Team!**

NOTE: The Moscow First UMC Vision Team is a task force initiated by Church Council, charged with exploring and guiding the congregation through the process of considering the congregation’s vision for the future. The members of the Vision Team are Blake Ballard, Connie Elliott, Rebecca Haley, Sonya Meyer, Debbie Sperry, and Crystal Tibbals.

Words from all members of the Vision Team; arranged by Rebecca Haley

As discussed in a previous article, over the next few weeks the Moscow First UMC Vision Team has been sharing and will continue to share our answers to three questions posed by Adam Hamilton in his book, Leading Beyond the Walls. We hope that our sharing will encourage you to consider your own answers to these questions and to dialogue with one another about them. It is your answers, not ours, which are an integral part of the process of figuring out who we are now, let alone where we want to go as a congregation in the future. Last week we explored the question, Why do people need Christ?

This week’s question from Adam Hamilton is Why do people need the Church?

We quickly discovered that in order to explore this question, we needed to consider other related questions, such as What is the church? What follows below are our sub-questions (in italics) and our answers (in plain type). Thank you for exploring with us!

~What is the church?

 

“I feel the church isn’t only a building. It is outdoors, it is the way we treat each other, it is how we are seen by others. We are the church when we help someone, smile to a stranger, pick up trash, and clean the park. We are the church any time we share God’s love.”

“I see the church as a place of community and connection. The church (as the body of Christ) should come around us when we struggle, encourage us to be better to ourselves and to others, and teach us how to give of ourselves. The church becomes the primary means of shaping us as followers of Jesus.”

“The church is an anchor that anchors us to Christ.”

~Do people need the church?

 

“Yes….and no.

 

I think that many people have a deep need for certain things that the Church can provide. That said, the Church can also not provide those things and sometimes even provide trauma, assault, shame, and toxicity as well. I also believe the Church is not the only place that can provide the good things that the Church provides.

 

My own personal observations (so no data here at all) suggest that people, by and large, are very much in need of the community. American culture in particular, in its prioritization of the individual and of the nuclear family, has led to many people living far from extended family and in many cases having only a very small circle of friends, many of whom may also live far away. American culture also tends to warehouse people by life stage, e.g., young adults only hang out with young adults, adults with young children only hang out with other people with young children, older adults hang out with mostly older adults, etc. It is not unusual for many people never to have witnessed either birth or death until members of their immediate family or they themselves experience these life transitions. What seems to result from the lack of extended social networks and a lack of social bonds with persons of varying life stages is (1) an extremely narrow perspective of the human experience, (2) an overwhelming sense of isolation and sometimes in helplessness during difficult circumstances, and (3) a severely compromised ability to handle life transitions with which one has no direct experience.

 

Good community provides opportunities to answer all these needs. The Church can be such a community. The Church can be a place where individuals or nuclear families can find others who can offer companionship and support much like an extended family. Ideally, the Church can also provide socialization with individuals and families from many different life stages and backgrounds. In the Church, we see and honor the start of new life with infant Baptism or dedications, and we see and honor death with funerals. We support those who need support during difficult times with meals, cards, and in-person visits. At its best, the Church becomes the family of God for each and every member.

 

But there is another thing which at its best, I believe the Church has the opportunity to provide. One thing that people in our society most desperately need. A sacred space in which to share and discuss the deepest realities of the human experience. A space where, in and through community, we pierce the veil of the every day and the mundane and cut to the heart of what it means to be alive. A place in which we share our deepest souls with one another.

 

The Church can be an antidote to the shallowness and fear-mongering of the world. It can be another voice, saying, here is water, and those who drink it will never be thirsty. This water will become in you a spring of water gushing up to eternal life! Here is bread, and if you eat it you will never be hungry again. For when we eat of this true feast, of really seeing and being seen by others, of sharing our deepest fears, hopes, loves, despairs, and joys, of really being with one another, in the stillness, well then, what need have we of shallowness, consumerism, and those who would use fear and anger to pit us against one another? The voices of the world say we need to look, act, or be a certain way in order to be loved. We as the Church should be drowning out those voices with God’s immeasurable love. Then we would be living into what I see as the deepest calling of the Church.

 

I actually don’t think the Church is the only place that people can find both community and deep, abiding meaning. I have found both within the Church, and I have found both in places outside the Church, some of which in so many ways do in actuality what the Church purports to do in theory. I am not really concerned with any loyalty to ‘the Church’ as an institution or to its continued survival. Rather, I am committed to helping people identify the deep longings within themselves for community and deep meaning and to help them find wellsprings of both wherever they may be.”

~Why you personally need the church? Why do you want the church?

 

“I think we can worship God on our own, but the Christian understanding of God is that God is, by nature, relational and we are invited into that relationship and show the depth of who God is in relationship.”

“People need a community and church provides a place for people to connect on a personal level as well as to impact the extended world. It can provide a family. A chance to be part of something bigger. This may include participation in small groups, missions, or committees.”

“Church is a gathering of people who share similar beliefs and values. If I miss out on the opportunity to spend time surrounded by those of like mind, my world tilts in an unsafe way. It is also my guaranteed way to connect with God. I cannot ignore His presence if I am with others singing His praises, studying His word, and lifting our prayers to Him.”

“I need the church because I want to live a life that allows me to share the love of Christ, no matter where I am.”

Stay tuned for our article next week, in which we explore our answers to Adam Hamilton’s third and final question: Why do people need this particular congregation?

In Christ
Pastor Debbie

 

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Pastor Debbie E-Spire - April 3, 2019

As a first year in college (UCLA was notorious for having "super seniors" in their 5th year....so we didn't call ourselves "freshman" or "sophomore" or "senior" but instead first year, or second year, or third year), I was able to spend a good bit of time with my brother, who had recently been ordained and appointed to Santa Barbara First UMC. He was an associate pastor and one of his areas of ministry was youth. He'd had a great love of camping for years, so when the opportunity came for him to be a camp dean, he jumped at the chance. One of his duties was recruiting staff and he (naturally?) asked me. He was my big brother and I was eager to help so I quickly said "yes". And then I quickly started to back peddle. I hadn't really participated in youth ministry since Junior High and I hadn't been to summer camp since I was 10. I had no idea what a counselor would do or how to make it work. I had made a commitment, and I wanted to honor that. But, I was very anxious about what I could possibly offer to the campers.

I don't remember how it came to me, but it's a word from God that stuck that week and ever since. My mantra became, "It's not about me, it's about God." I had become consumed with what I had to offer and what I could do. But really had to be open to how God could work through me. Yes, I had talents and abilities I needed to be ready to employ, but most importantly, I had to let God work through me. I didn't have to have all the answers. I didn't have to know all the songs. I didn't have to have all the life experience. I simply had to be open to how God might use me at different times during the week.

That lesson of faithfulness and humility has been priceless in my life. Since then I've been placed in 100s of different situations that felt outside of my capabilities. Each time, I went back to that lesson from camp. It's not about me, it's about God (and what God can do through me).

As our "mess" often relates to our inadequacies, I think it's key that we remember ministry isn't all about us, but how we allow God to work through us. How have you allowed God to work through you? Do you find yourself being called/nudged/pulled to help in a certain area? Are you willing to say yes or are you holding back because you aren't sure you measure up? What would it mean to jump in with two feet and allow God to use you?

In Christ,
Pastor Debbie

 

p.s. My confession is that part of my mess as of late has been that I haven't been prepared to be writing these to you. There are plenty of topics to be covered, and yet I've struggled to find the right ones. I would rather not send you something, than litter your inbox. I hope you'll forgive my inconsistency. And...if there's a topic you'd like me to address, please let me know.

 

 

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Pastor Debbie's E-Spire - Febraury 26, 2019

Friends,

I will do my best to cover the major talking points from General Conference 2019, which just concluded in St Louis. Please feel free to contact me (by phone, email, or in person) if you have questions. I will do my best to answer all questions, though, please know, there are some things that are still very much unknown.

 

The basics:

The Social Principles (which are principles not laws) say two (arguably conflicting) things:

1) We are all individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.

2) Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian scriptures.

There are then laws in the Book of Discipline that pertain to those principles…those laws include

1) clergy cannot be “self-avowed practicing homosexuals”. In essence, someone could be gay and celibate and be ordained, but could not be gay, partnered and ordained.

2) UMC clergy are prohibited from performing same-sex marriages.

This has been the stated stance of the denomination for a long time. But, it has not been the belief or lived ministry of all individual members, pastors, churches, and even annual conferences in that same time frame. Many of those “outliers” or “dissenters” are in the Western Jurisdiction (though there are plenty of folks with these same beliefs across the connection). Together the Annual Conferences in the West have had discussion and debates on LGBT rights within the church and have done various things:

1) Struggled with how to have these conversations in civil and life-giving ways

2) Affirmed LGBT folks as members and leaders within the church.

3) Performed same-sex marriages.

4) Ordained out and partnered clergy.

5) Elected an out and partnered bishop.

6) Lived with the tension that not all members, clergy, or churches believe the same thing—we live under the umbrella of theological diversity that allows for “conservatives” and “progressives” to be the body of Christ together.

In 2016, the General Conference (the legislative body of the UMC) met for their regular meeting and came to a stalemate on petitions that sought to change the language of the Book of Discipline (BOD) to be less restrictive and more affirming. The bishops were asked to help us find a way forward. I’ve outlined those steps in other communications and am happy to resend those if needed but won’t rehash them here.

This week’s events:

This last weekend began the meeting of General Conference 2019—the special GC called for the UMC to vote specifically (and really only) on these (and specifically related) issues. At the outset there were basically 4 plans:

1) One Church Plan (OCP)

2) Connectional Church Plan

3) Traditional Plan (TP)

4) Simple Plan

There were also 5 exit plans. Exit plans were written because, as it stands, the UMC has “the trust clause”. This rule basically says that if a church dissolves or disbands, any and all property become property of the annual conference (not of the people in the church). The trust clause is legally strong and has been upheld in various courts. The exit plans seek to find a way around the trust clause that would allow churches to leave the denomination with their property. Some of the exit plans were more gracious than others.

The legal-ease of how voting happened is fairly complicated and generally only (mostly) interesting to those really invested in the process. It’s a lot of minutia. If you have specific questions or are really interested in how it all played out, I’m happy to share it with you, but don’t expect the majority want to know.

I expect the looming questions are these:

1) What happened?

2) What does it mean?

3) Where do we go from here?

What happened?

In short, the Traditional Plan passed by a simple majority (53%) of the 864 voting delegates. The TP sought to fortify and strengthen the current exclusions and restrictions within the BOD. In essence, the official statement of the UMC remains as one that is exclusive and not affirming of our LGBTQIA siblings. However, various petitions within the whole plan have been deemed unconstitutional by the Judicial Council—our version of the Supreme Court. The plan as a whole, as it was adopted today, has been referred to the Judicial Council for review of constitutionality.

What does it mean?

There are various answers to this, all depending on who you are and how you look at it. One answer is, we don’t know yet. We are still waiting on the declaratory decision from the Judicial Council to know which, if any, parts will stand. Another answer is we’ve done irreparable harm to LGBT folks within the church and beyond. We, as a denomination, have reinforced that they are not (fully) welcome within the United Methodist Church. Another answer is, in the West, it may not mean much. We’ve practiced openness and inclusivity in a variety of ways and our churches aren’t ready to stop. Another answer might be that we will lose members of our churches. People may not be able to stay in the painful place of feeling unloved and unwelcomed. Others may not be able to reconcile the words of the church with the words of Jesus.

Where do we go from here?

I think this is a question we will have to explore together. We are the church—together—and we have to decide who we are, what we stand for, and how we will live Christ’s commission, together. I do know this: we still live in a broken hurting world that needs hope, comfort, care, justice and compassion. In other words, there is ministry to be done. And you all are wonderful, gifted, loving people whom God has placed in this church body to do just that. We don’t have to be of one mind to live with grace and kindness. We don’t have to affirm the work of General Conference (individually or collectively) in order to affirm God’s ability to work in us or through us.

I am more than open to conversation (from all perspectives) and invite you to come to the church on Wednesday 2/27 from 7:00-8:00am, 12:00-1:00pm, or 6:30-8:00pm (or any portion thereof) for conversation and/or prayer. I plan to be in the Parlor for each of those times. We will have a special time of worship and prayer on Sunday 3/3 at 9:30 in the sanctuary for any who are inclined. If those times don't work for you, please let me know and we will find a time that does.

Finally, I share with you a statement from the Western Jurisdiction (Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho, Alaska, California-Pacific, Big Sky, Rocky Mountain, Desert Southwest, and California-Nevada annual conferences) that was shared at the end of General Conference today.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

At the 2019 Special Called Session of the General Conference,

Rev. Donna Pritchard, chair of the Western Jurisdiction Leadership Team made this statement on behalf of Western Jurisdiction Leadership:

"We have long appreciated the richness of the global diversity of our United Methodist Church and have embraced opportunities to join with you all in the work of making disciples for the transformation of the world. "We also understand the purpose of the Church to be in mission and ministry. Consequently, we in the West have been functioning for years as One Church committed to full inclusion, seeking to be a home for all God’s people. "Today we acknowledge the fracture of this body, yet we worship a God who tells us that the body of Christ has many parts, all equally valued. Rooted in Wesleyan tradition, grounded in Scripture and committed to mission and ministry, the Western Jurisdiction intends to continue to be one church, fully inclusive and open to all God’s children, across the theological and social spectrum. "We know from experience we are stronger when we live together as progressives, traditionalists and centrists in our Church. Many times during this Conference we have sung or prayed or blessed each other with the reminder that we need each other. Thank you." In two weeks, the leadership of the Western Jurisdiction will meet. We want to be clear that the leadership of the Western Jurisdiction believes in one church for all. Mission and ministry is too important. This is where we stand, we are not moving, we are not leaving, and we are not changing.

 

In Christ
Pastor Debbie

 

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Read more: Pastor Debbie's E-Spire - Febraury 26, 2019

Pastor Debbie's E-Spire - February 20, 2019

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When I was in Cuba (for a J-term class on evangelism), I had two friends from seminary on the trip with me. It was an eye-opening experience in so many ways, including our understanding of the power of prayer. We returned to Candler very aware that no one had responsibility for our spiritual growth besides us. So, we decided to do something and started with prayer. We decided to meet weekly to sing, pray and share with each other. It was a fairly informal time, but we know we could share what was going on in our lives and that we would seriously pray for one another. We met weekly in a small room off the main sanctuary. As time went on, we had occasion to invite others to join us. Some did for a season and others did for the next year or two of seminary. Those women were at the core of my spiritual development in seminary. And they continue to be my core spiritual sisters. We have talked and texted regularly over the last 13 years, and for a couple of years now have shared a private prayer group on Facebook with one another.

 

We know we are safe with one another. We know we are cared about and loved by the others. And we know we have faithful people who will pray for us, our families, our friends, and our congregations. We didn’t expect that to be the fruit our weekly time of prayer would yield; honestly, we didn’t start with any expectations. We only started with a hope that God would move in us and through us.

 

As we, at Moscow FUMC, embark on a new journey as a church this Lent, I am hopeful about the power of the connections in our groups. Some may simply meet and discuss a book. And that’s great. Others may meet and laugh and share together. Others may find God calling them to serve in a particular way. Others may meet and share more deeply and form bonds that could last more than a decade. And that’s also great. I don’t want to put too much expectation on what could happen in these weeks together, but I do want you to know something powerful could.

In Christ,
Pastor Debbie

Pastor Debbie E-Spire - December 8, 2018

This week our community suffered the loss of Donal Wilkinson. For reasons we may never know or understand, Donal took his own life. He was a scout leader, a member of UUCP, a youth mentor, and a community member. As his own pastor was out of town for a family funeral, I was asked to attend some of the events their church held. On Wednesday evening, they kept the church open and had their lay ministers available to listen and pray with any and all. On Thursday they hosted a soup supper (thank you to the Co-op for the soup and bread) along with conversation, professional counselors, and community support for youth, parents of young children, and parents of teens and young adults. Tragedy is hard on any community and I was so grateful to see the ways people were coming together to care for one another.

As I talked with and listened to many who knew and loved Donal many wondered how he could have done that, and why they didn't see it, and wished they had only known so they could have helped me. All of those are normal and appropriate responses. Most of us can never fully wrap our minds around how someone could feel so terrible. And yet, for the few of us who have seen the darkest part of the abyss (of depression, or grief, or sadness) we can imagine. I shared more than a few times about my own struggles over the years. I battle situational depression and have faced the suicidal edge twice. I am grateful for the things that brought me back from that place. And learned that in the pit, reason doesn't exist. Logic is mute.

That might sound crazy, but I remember talking with a friend who called when she was suicidal. I remember asking about her sisters and parents and friends...what about them? And they did't matter. Not in the darkness. I didn't understand it. Until I found myself in that space. And then I got it. The darkness isn't rational or reasonable.

So then the next question became, "How do you help someone?" And "How can you defeat the darkness?" It's not a perfect formula. And there's not a strict timeline. But I've found that being vulnerable and honest about how you're feeling is vital. Not being shocked if someone tells you they feel that low is essential. Listen. Share. Be honest. Be real. And remember, it does get better. Not generally as quickly as we might like, but there is always reason to hope and believe things will get better. We all need to be reminded we matter, are important, and are loved.

Suicide is something treated as taboo in the church. We don't quite know what to do with it. So we avoid it, if we can. This week, for some in our community, it was unavoidable. So we talked and shared, and worked through the hardest parts together.

If you are struggling, please know you are not alone. We are here. You matter. And it does get better. It's ok (essential really) to be honest. Please tell someone, even a stranger. There is always someone who will listen at 1-800-273-8255. And if you need to talk, I'm here. Please reach out.

Many in Moscow are grieving this week. Many are struggling. May we have abundant compassion and grace for one another.

 

In Christ,
Pastor Debbie

 

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