Praying for the Church

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One of the practices I have incorporated into my renewal leave is to use Bishop Job’s, A Guide to Prayer, each morning.

I have taken to setting up office on our back porch in the cool mornings where I can look out on the garden, feel the cool breeze, and breathe in the air.

I have gone through the devotions like normal, but when I get to the section where I pray for the church, for others, and for myself, I pull out a stack of postcards and labels and stamps, and I pray for the people of Immanuel UMC.

Each day, I pray for between 10 and 20 families in our church.

I pray for them by name.

I pray for their health and struggles, their joys and the people they love.

To be honest, I don’t know every name on the list.  Some are people who remain members but have been disconnected from our community.  Some are people who live far away but have maintained their membership.  Most are faces I see in worship every Sunday.

No matter who they are or how well I know them, I know God knows their lives and I lift them each up in God’s hands.

 

In part, the idea came from receiving a notecard from two different people at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City.  Their pastor, Adam Hamilton, came to our annual conference as a guest speaker and his congregation lifted up the churches and pastors of Iowa in preparation for his arrival.

It was moving to get that card in the mail.  To know that someone out there was praying for me and my ministry that day.  I began to wonder how I might incorporate that personal prayer outreach within my own ministry and this is one way I am beginning this practice.

When I return, I am thinking about how to do this on a weekly basis – to connect via calls or postcards with the folks in my church and let them know that whatever is going on in their lives, I’m praying for them.

Church Whiplash

In the past six weeks, I have preached at some RADICALLY different types of churches.

My latest traveling marathon began with the invitation to be the official Imagine No Malaria spokesperson at a 5k event in Lakewood, Ohio.  As part of the festivities, I preached at the Cove and Lakewood United Methodist Churches.

Cove and Lakewood are beginning a new mutual partnership.  Lakewood essentially hired a third pastor, a deacon, who serves part time at Lakewood and part time as the pastor at Cove.  In reality, all three pastors preach and rotate between the two congregations.  They are building new relationships, drawing upon gifts to enhance one another, and I really hope it will be successful for all involved!

Worship at Cove UMC was in a beautiful sanctuary with dark wood and nautical themes and a huge anchor at the front of the sanctuary.  The choir was rowdy and fun and provided most of the energy for the service.  The crowd was sparse and folks seemed to tumble in at various times.  The church itself is shared between the United Methodists and the U.C.C. folks and so it was easy to see the overlap in the morning activities.  Before the service was over, I was rushed out the door to make it to Lakewood to preach at their traditional service.

Lakewood UMC’s traditional service is in a strange L shaped sanctuary. The choir and pulpit sit at the corner of the L and it makes for a really interesting preaching venue.  They are in the process of renovating so the space is less awkward and they can add some technology like screens and powerpoint and better sound.  I arrived most of the way through the service, just in time to get to the altar area and begin preaching.  Large choir, beautiful stained glass, very traditional style of worship… with the exception of that weird layout!

Then I preached at their contemporary service in the fellowship hall.  A band played along the right side of the worship space with screens at the front.  It was strange to have a very traditional altar and decorations in between high tech televisions, but it worked.  That service was very casual, seated around round tables, and it was nice to be able to look every person in the eye as I preached and shared.

When I got back from Ohio, I had a weekend off and then I preached another three service – this time at a three point charge in South Central Iowa.

Decatur City is a small little church and most folks don’t actually live in that community anymore.  The ten of us gathered for worship not in their sanctuary, but in the kitchen/fellowship space – with the altar as the kitchen counter.  The group was really close-knit and you could tell they looked out for one another.  The music was played on an old piano and they sang their hearts out.  It was informal and holy and the type of service where if someone interrupted with a question, you just went with it.

Davis City felt very different in comparison. While it was also a tiny little church, the sanctuary they worshiped in was for a much larger congregation.  The stained glass, the dark wood, felt very heavy in that space because there were so few of them.  In reality, no fewer than the previous church, but they all sat spread out at the back of the church.  Music came from the Hymnal on CD which added a different element to the service.  My favorite thing about worshiping with this group was the little girl who bounced here and there and everywhere.  You could tell they all loved her very much and as she took the offering, she clicked this little thing around her neck as a “thank-you.”

The third church in this cluster was Lamoni.  The building was newer (maybe mid 70’s), lighter, and fuller.  Young people were everywhere.  The music was blended, there was a screen and powerpoint, and the tiny sanctuary was packed with folks who were excited to be there and excited about the possibilities in their community.

The next weekend, I also preached at three services, but this time in one congregation – Grace in Des Moines. I started with their Saturday night service and made an assumption it would include a praise band and contemporary music and was pleasantly surprised to find a small chapel area, a good crowd, and jazz stylings on the piano with Taize selections from The Faith We Sing.  No screens, but good coffee and treats afterwards.  I could pass around a picture to illustrate my sermon and have great impact with the group.

The early morning service on Sunday was in the same space – a fellowship area they are trying to convert into a chapel of sorts.  It was a traditional service, stripped bare, with a good community feeling.  This was the early bunch and afterwards everyone rushed off to Sunday School so there wasn’t a lot of deep community in that worship service that I could sense… you could tell it might be worship for the folks who want the traditional worship from Grace but might have things to do that day.

The main worship service was very different.  Large sanctuary, three choirs, over three hundred in worship with long deep aisles and the balcony above.  No screens… just the music and the words. Lots of folks young and old. Very traditional and formal type of service. Preaching from the pulpit, I felt far away from the people, but also had the sense that all eyes were on me.  But worship extended beyond that space, it wasn’t necessarily the crowning jewel in that church, even though it was a highlight.  You could tell as they left the space, they went to gather, drink coffee, join in mission opportunities, go to lunch together, etc.

The next weekend, I was at another church for three services, but not to preach this time.  At Altoona UMC, they were in the midst of a series and so I shared for about five minutes as part of the sermon at each service.  Their traditional service was so different from what I think of as “traditional.”  There was a choir, the songs were all standards from the Hymnal, but the format of the service itself was very contemporary – front loaded with music with a long preaching/teaching time at the end.  Lighting changed the mood between prayers and message and songs.  Blues and reds lit up the stage and the audience was dimmed for the teaching portion.  The choir left after their music was finished and then a chair and a table was set in the middle for Pastor John’s message.  Technology is a huge part of how this church worships and it added to every single detail in a way that was seamless.

The second two services were similiar to one another.  Traditional, praise band, in many ways the exact same format as the first service, but with very different music.  The church is growing fast and every service had a sense of life and energy to it.  Pastor John did a great job of making some kind of personal reference with people in every service, calling someone out and showing how the point in the message impacted them personally.  It was a nice touch, and you can tell people know one another, are open about where they struggle and what they celebrate.

In the next few weeks, I have to fill out my Pastoral Profile form and indicate what type of community I feel called to serve in the next year.  Come July, I will be in a new appointment, because my work as the Imagine No Malaria Coordinator will be finished.  I thought knowing the diversity of what is out there might help me to check some boxes and not others, but to be honest, all of this moving between churches has given me whiplash.  I think if I had to think about the places where I felt the most grounded and connected, it was those services/congregations where there was a sense of community and support.  Not only for one another, but for what was happening in the world, too. I want to serve in a place where there is a willingness to think connectionally – both with other churches and with the wider world.  I want to serve in a place where they come to be fed so they can feed others.  And I realized in my whirwind preaching tour that it is not the size or location of a church or even they style of worship that determines whether or not those things happen.

Invitation to Conversation and Discernment

conversationHi folks,

This year at our Iowa Annual Conference one of our major topics of discussion will be the vision, mission, and strategic priorities of our Iowa Conference.

As part of getting people across the conference to think/pray/discern where we are heading with this document, I’m hoping YOU might think and write about the document this next week.  I want to invite you to prayerfully read the full document and craft your response.  If you blog, let me know where and when your post shows up!  If you don’t blog, I would love to invite you to be a guest on my blog and will share your responses.

In this exercise, some questions we might wrestle with are:

  • What kind of difference would this make in the Iowa Annual Conference?
  • What are the obstacles to passing the vision/mission/priorities?
  • What are the obstacles to living them out?
  •  What are some lingering questions you have or places you feel led to push back?
  • What excites you? What inspires you? What stirs your soul so that you can’t wait to get started?
  • What are we missing?

Up front disclosure: I was on the writing team for this project and have spent a lot of time invested in the work. It’s not perfect.  It isn’t even really finished… that will happen on the floor of the Annual Conference as we adopt the priorities and then work to perfect the goals as a legislative body… and even then, we are creating a working document.  I’m hopeful and prayerful that God truly is leading us outside of our old structures and into a new reality – focused on relationship, mission, discipleship, and life in our community. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have and/or talk about where I’m still struggling!!!

I’m not looking for your approval, but your deep engagement and conversation… and to invite those who respond in your own circles to do the same.  I want us to be as informed, prepared, and above all SPIRIT LED as we get to the actual conversations on the floor of annual conference as we can be.  And that takes connection and holy conversation. 
PLEASE seek out others who are writing and read and interact with their thoughts and responses!
PLEASE invite others to blog also!  And if you have friends/colleagues/church members/neighbors who don’t blog, invite them to write a guest post for your blog to broaden the engagement!

All in all… thank you.  And let me know when you post next week so I can link your posts and share them broadly.

All Shall Be Well,

Katie Z.

p.s. I hope this might be the start of deeper connection among the bloggers in our conference, as well! 

Light Still Shines…

In the last two weeks, I have been talking with a lot of folks across Iowa.  I spent some time with clergy in Des Moines and then in Hampton at Laity Day.  I preached in DeWitt and organized folks in Mount Pleasant.  I worked with folks in Tama.  And I’ve made phone calls to at least four different area codes.

Three times, I’ve heard stories of students who came to Iowa from Tanzania to study while in high school.  A heart-breaking story of a student who returned only to contract malaria and die.  The passed-along word to be in prayer for a current student who’s father had just died of malaria.  And the joyful exclamation of a student who rushed to a clergywoman at a Chrysalis retreat when she heard that she was a United Methodist pastor: “Thank you for saving our lives!”

I’ve heard the stories of two veterans who served overseas and contracted malaria.  They battled “Annie” the anophales mosquito and came out on the other side to tell their story.  Both are helping to spread the word among their churches.

I’ve heard from moms who have sent children away on mission trips and pray for their safety.  I’ve heard stories of hospital visits here in the U.S. where no one could tell them what was wrong because malaria is so rare here.  I’ve listened to accounts of baptisms of children who we hope are still living.

I have not been to Africa.  I have never had malaria.  I have not experienced the terror of watching a loved one grow feverish and get sick with an illness you knew you could stop if only you had enough money or resources.

But I know people who have.  And their stories are heart-breaking and beautiful and it is an honor to be able to hear them and to work with them and on their behalf to help save lives.

1,440 children died from malaria today. That is 1,440 too many.

But today, hundreds, if not thousands of people, were also seeking for a way to be light in the darkness after tragedies like the explosions in Boston and the earthquake in Iran.

We posted quotes from Mr. Rogers and prophets and preachers on twitter.  We changed our profile pictures to something quintessentially Bostonian.  We lifted up prayers that we would remember and that things would be different and told ourselves that we wouldn’t be afraid, that we weren’t going to let the darkness win. But then the next day comes… and life takes back over… and we let the thoughts fade and the pictures get changed and we start complaining about the scores on Dancing with the Stars.

Today, 1,440 children died from malaria.

Josefina Cassava stands with her son Jomacio in the doorway of their home in the Cacilhas village near Huambo, Angola, after they were provided a long lasting insecticide-treated mosquito net by the MENTOR Initiative. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service.
Josefina Cassava stands with her son Jomacio in the doorway of their home in the Cacilhas village near Huambo, Angola, after they were provided a long lasting insecticide-treated mosquito net by the MENTOR Initiative. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service.

So tonight, I changed my facebook cover picture to the beautiful faces of two members of our human family from Angola. Because I’m not going to just let those prayers and those thoughts of today fade into memory tomorrow.  I want to be different tomorrow.  I want to hang on to that light.  I want to be one of those helpers who runs into the fray.My new prayer is that we might join our broken hearts together to actually work for good in the world.  There are lots of fantastic places to start, but in my life that place is this battle against malaria.  And so I want to invite you to join me in being light, in making a difference, in helping to save lives.

I’m going to tell you stories… like all of those ones that I mentioned above.  I’m going to share pictures and help put a face to the work we are doing.  But above all, I want to invite you to imagine with me the possibilities.  This effort to stop deaths from malaria… it’s not just wishful thinking.  It is doable, it is real, it is happening all around us and you have got to be part of this.

One way to start… check out our website for this project in Iowa:  www.inmiowa.org

If you live here in the state, especially check out the “Statewide Pancake Breakfast” link and find a place near you where you can eat some pancakes and help raise funds to save lives.

Our goal here in Iowa is to help save 200,000 lives from malaria… by covering those children with a bednet as they sleep and helping to provide the funds for diagnosis and treatment.

The best part… it only costs ten bucks.

Ten dollars can save a life.  Ten dollars can prevent malaria.  Ten dollars can diagnose and treat a disease that kills.

Ten bucks.

Let’s be light. Let’s shine in the darkness.  Let’s never give up.

 

Jurisdictional Conference Day 4

Yes, I realize I went from Day 0 to Day 4… so much transpiring with not a whole lot of time to really sit and reflect.

This being my first Jurisdictional conference, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  We had some amazing preaching, reports of shared jurisdictional ministries, elections to General Agencies and jurisdictional committees and in between a whole lot of conversation and community.

My plate just got a little bit fuller as I accepted the nomination to be our conference representative on the General Commission on Communications and I’m on our jurisdictional Rules of Order committee (which might only meet once in the next four years).

I resisted my urges for making snarky comments by keeping a twitter play-by-play of the speeches and sermons. I was so relieved to hear us refocus ourselves around what we can do together and the awesome power of God to renew and recreate instead of threats of “death tsunamis.” God is active and we have nothing to fear.  With boldness we are going to radically risk and live into the Kingdom of God… at least, I’m going to!

I got to hang out with my friend Jessica again and I’m glad she is recovering and healing from Tampa. 

I connected with other young adults from the jurisdiction and without official funding or organization we are going to plan a NCJ gathering for fellowship and reconnection.

But perhaps the thing I’m taking from jurisdictional conference is the reminder that my plans are not God’s plans and that the connection we serve (and the God we serve) might take us places we do not expect.  Our bishops move, our ministries belong to all of us rather than any individual, and what we do together is awesome.

Jurisdictional Conference Day 0

Yesterday, I flew in to Akron/Canton and started this crazy adventure called Jurisdictional Conference.  I’m still not quite sure what we are doing except for electing bishops (which we aren’t this year) and moving bishops (which a committee will take care of) and nominating and electing people to general agencies (which is also mostly committee work).

I have dubbed this the Conference of Going Through the Motions and Jumping Through Hoops. 

On the other hand, I had a great time catching up with people who were my anchors during GC2012.  We found an awesome place to eat called CRAVE, ran into my first pastor (now turned Bishop Ough) and his wife and got some huge hugs, and connected with some young adult clergy and laity from Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas. 

The one hour time difference might through me off the most.  I was not worn out but not sleepy last night, but for some reason, on the day I can sleep to my hearts content (we don’t start until 2 today), I got myself out of bed at 8:30 (7:30 Iowa time!). 

Time to make coffee and explore for a bit before we dive into the hoop jumping. 

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GC04: The Call to Action for the US Church?

Taylor Burton-Edwards reminded me a few weeks ago that there needs to be a distinction made by the Call to Action and all of the proposals that have been issued forth.  It think that it is helpful to see the CtA as a sort of vision that has been cast but that does not necessarily include specific proposals.

In fact, when our Iowa Annual Conference delegation read the Council of Bishop’s statement on the Call to Action, we endorsed the document for conversation because it does challenge us to think in new and creative and transformative ways about what it would mean to be the church in a new time and place.  I think that this video put out by the Call to Action team also does this: 

We See A New Church from Call to Action on Vimeo.

When I saw the video, I was mostly inspired and felt like I could find agreement with about 95% of what we were being called to live into.  The vision put forth here is of United Methodists out in the world, sharing the good news, working for transformative change in our communities, and the call is to do something bold NOW… I agree.

BUT… that doesn’t mean we can’t have serious conversation about whether some of these proposals are the best possible solutions for us to live out that vision. I actually am beginning to worry they aren’t bold enough, that we won’t have the courage to really make changes that will transform our church and the world.

There is also a larger question that I started pondering after seeing this particular video.  If we are doing something right globally… if we are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in places like Nigeria and Indonesia and Russia… then how will these proposals affect that work? Are we really talking about a problem with the UMC in the USA and parts of Eurpoe? And will a focus on American lackluster Christianity actually harm our global impact as a church?

What I see around me is not necessarily a problem only with United Methodism, but a problem with how American Christianity has been watered down and has lost its ability to truly claim a space in the world.  Many young people my age have no interest in the church and do not believe it has any value or meaning for their lives.  They can change the world without us.  We have not articulated how we have something to offer… we have not connected with people in our country in a way that shares the true transformative power of a relationship with the church and with Jesus Christ.  But that doesn’t mean that what we are doing is necessarily wrong for other parts of the world.

Maybe underlying this problem is another question: how can we contextualize the ministry of the church without losing our global unity?  How can we continue to resource and support the amazing work we are doing on the African and Asian continents and at the same time make adjustments to our engagement with the American and European dechurched and unchurched? And will our current proposals hold up one at the expense of the other? Will our focus on vital congregations drift us towards congregationalism and isolationism?  Or will it inspire us to learn from one another and from what is working in other parts of the world in a way that makes our connectionalism that much stronger?

You Are the Body

Description of my Christmas tree:  White lights, built into the tree. Part of a strand wasn’t working. Had to go through and replace every single light down the row to find the right one that was loose or had burned out. Scratched face and arms. A lot of work! But when it is finished and the hard work is done and everything is untangled, that tree looks amazing!

I got to thinking about how a strand of Christmas tree lights is like the body of Christ. Every single one of those bulbs is important. They might be small. They might shine with different colors and brightness. Some might twinkle and others might not. But if you take one light out – the strand stops working.

Each one of us is an important member of the body of Christ. We may be simple, ordinary people, but we are necessary. We shine with different colors and brightness. Some of us twinkle and others do not. But if you take just one of us out – our strand stops working.

As we continue deeper into the twelfth chapter of Romans today, Paul tells us what happens when we not only hand over our ordinary lives to God, but also let God’s will transform our hearts. We find our place in the Body of Christ. We find that we are individuals in community. We find that God not only has a purpose for us – but that God has already given us everything we need to fulfill that purpose.

I keep all of our Christmas stuff in a large trunk that we store underneath the stairs at our house. And in the bottom of that trunk (which is why I didn’t get a chance to drag it out and bring it this morning) is a small box. And in that box are replacement light bulbs. They are just ordinary little bulbs – much like the ones here. Some of them are twinkle bulbs and cause the whole strand to blink on and off. Some of them are twinklers themselves. Some of them are clear and others have color to them. But you know what – inside that box, not plugged in or connected to anything, they are really good for nothing.

I got to thinking about those spare light bulbs when I read our gospel reading for this morning: Jesus spoke to Philip and Andrew and said:

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Unless a light bulb is connected to the strand of lights, it remains simply a spare bulb; But if it dies – it if is connected – it if gives up its role as a spare part, a simple individual bulb – then it gives forth light. And not just its own individual light… it becomes a part of a greater light that shines forth and brings joy to the world.

Who knew you could learn so much from light bulbs?!

In many ways, we are like those spare parts. We might have great color or potential for twinkling or steadfast shining… we might have the ability to bring joy and warmth into the world… but unless we recognize who we truly are – and whose we truly are… unless we let go of our individual lives and give ourselves over to God… we might not ever discover the beauty and the power of walking in the light.

As Jesus goes on in this gospel passage from John, we are reminded that discovering our gift and our role does not mean that everything will be easy. Jesus recognizes that his journey takes him straight to the cross. But he also knows that this is why he is here. This is why his light shines. He understands his purpose in the larger picture of God’s will and in gratitude he is able to say – Father, I do this to glorify your name.

Every one of us has the opportunity to glorify his name – to serve him, to follow him, to honor him. And we do that when we are aligned with God’s will and connected to the Body of Christ.

When we become connected to God’s will and the body of Christ we:

A. understand our individual role – an essential and yet same part of one Body

  1. each of us has different gifts… sharing of the results from our spiritual gifts inventory.
  2. The church needs you… your particular gift was given so that you would help this strand of lights to shine.
  3. But you also need need the church – we need to understand our part in the bigger story.. we need the gifts of others to encourage us, teach us, pray for us, serve us. We need to church to connect us with the power of god… even when we are broken and our individual lights don’t work. One of the amazing things that I discovered with these strands of Christmas lights is that even when a light is broken, it is still necessary. The power still flows through it, even if it will not light up. But take it out – then the whole strand suffers. In the Christian faith, we talk about how sometimes the community of faith carries our faith for us. When we baptize a little child, we are committing to hold the faith for them, to raise them up in the faith, until one day they are ready to claim that faith for themselves. In the same way, when we are burn out spiritually – the last thing we need is to leave the church. We need to surround ourselves with those who can love and care for us and continue to help the Holy Spirit flow through our life until we are ready for transformation and new life and faith.

B. understand our communal role

  1. in many ways our church is like one light bulb as a part of the worldwide body of Christ – so we ask a similar question – what is our church’s gift? What do we uniquely offer this community? How can we manifest God’s will and glorify his name?
  2. In our church, we have discerned that our unique offering is to help reflect the light of Christ in three ways: Care, Grow, Send
  3. In looking at the spiritual gifts of people in this church, the top gifts that God has blessed us with are healing and miracles… so how does that translate into our Prayer/Healing ministry: sharing the good news, bringing hope, walking with people… being a beacon and reflecting the light of God to this community
  4. Soon, our new prayer site will go live

C. Practice needs to be consistent with our gifts. We need to honor them. We need to care for them. We need to serve in ways that glorify God.

  1. John Westerhoff: As stewards of God, we are invited to join God’s action, God’s mission in the world. We are Christ’s body, God’s sacrament, so that God can be present in human life and history. It is for this purpose that God calls us into the church.”
  2. Our witness is our witness – we can serve all we want, but if we do not do so with gentle hearts, it comes across as cold. If we tell the good news but we do it shouting from the street corner, we seem to be better than others. If we tell the truth about God but neglect the truth of our own lives, then we come across as hypocrites.
  3. We are Christ’s body. Sometimes we are the only Christ that this world ever sees… in the gospel of John we are reminded that when we spent time in the light – when we spend time with Jesus – when we believe in him and follow him and serve him – then we ourselves become children of the light.
  4. As the familiar hymn goes: I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus. God set the starts to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus. In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The lamb is the light of the city of God.

Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus. Shine in our hearts, Lord Jesus. Lead us deeper into this community. Connect us with one another so that we might share these amazing gifts that you have given us. Transform us into children of the light so that we might share your love and grace with this community and this world and truly glorify your name. Amen.