what you may not realize about the loss of guaranteed appointment #gc2012

Tonight, my heart was stilled from its racing on the guaranteed appointment issue.

I have felt the both/and of a desire for a clear, mission process for appointments AND the deep desire to protect my brothers and sisters who might unfairly be discriminated against in the process where homophobia, sexism, and racism still exist. I was not of one heart on the issue. When asked how I would have voted on the floor had I been seated, I honestly could not answer… perhaps I would have abstained.

But tonight, a colleague of mine – Sean McRoberts – and I dove deep into the legislation to figure out what the actual implications are.

1) this is not a simple power given to the bishop or cabinet to dismiss you to ministry… there are checks and balances all throughout the process. According to the legislation we passed and the BoD, either a lack of missional appointment placement OR an ineffective pastor who is not appointed has to be approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry AND the clergy session. Someone who recieves the status of “transitional leave” must be voted on by the order and so as clergy, if we feel uncomfortable with this process, we need to remember that we have the ability to vote and support one another if the process/boom/cabinet is acting discriminatorily…

2) the appointive cabinet, Board of Ordained Ministry, and Clergy Session all have to agree for a person to move to transitional leave (it is a status change). Transitional leave has a two year maximum according to the discipline. A person cannot simply be returned to transitional leave again and again. If a person is being transitioned out of ministry due to ineffectiveness, that two years gives time for a process of healing, discernment, counseling, and new calling to occur. In Iowa, we currently have a three year process to counsel and support clergy who are ineffective so that they can either grow or discern a new calling.

3) some important work was done in the legislative committee. They added a requirement for accountability that says statistical reporting on the people put on transitional leave and/or appointed to a less than full time position (age, gender, race) has to be sent to the executive committee of the BoOM and the conference and jurisdictional committee on the episcopacy.  Committee on Episcopacy should then include those statistics in the annual evaluation of the bishop.  (we also approved at this general conference a switch from bi-annual to annual episcopal review).

Prior to this GC, bishops were not evaluated on their appointment making activities, only on the other areas of their ministry. If there were complaints, we could use administrative process to require remedial action and/or bring charges.  This is still the case, only this way we have a process of statistical information to help evaluate if their are patterns, intentional or unintentional, that exclude persons from the table. The process already is in place for helping ineffective or discriminatory bishops transition out of ministry (we just never use it!)

4) there is an important addition, also from the legislative committee, that calls for a group of four laity, two clergy, a district superintendent and the bishop of the annual conference to determine annually criteria for missional appointment making. These criteria are then to be used by the cabinet in their process of discernment. This adds the voice of clergy and laity into the process.

So… with these four clarifications/implications… what do you think?

the world is my parish

Bishop Trimble recently reminded a group of young clergy that we are not appointed to congregations… we are appointed to communities.

It was something I had not really considered before he made that statement… and it was a refreshing thought.

In many ways, I had assumed that my ministry was both in my church and in the community that surrounds it.  That’s kind of the way my missionally-minded brain works.

But since he spoke them out loud, I have really taken his words to heart and have felt emboldened in the work I do “out there.”

If I’m honest, it might be one of my favorite parts of my job.

Way back when… okay, only three or four years ago… wait… holy crap… seven or eight years ago!… I thought I was called to be a deacon.  I felt that my ministry was as much about being out in the world as it ever was to be in a congregation.  I heard God calling me to be a bridge between the church and the world.  And that is the essence of what I understood the ministry of a deacon to be.

But then this little whisper started to tug at my soul.  It was the sacraments.  The bread and the wine and the water kept speaking to me.  And then they took hold.  My ministry might include the world… but God was also calling me to use the church as the vehicle of my ministry.  God was calling me to break bread as much as he was calling me to break barriers.

Long story short… my journey has come full circle.  I am now an ordained elder with sacramental authority AND I get to work in my community. God had a plan long before I could ever see it or understand it.
I’ve blogged before about my outreach and relationship building through funerals and weddings in the larger community. I have been the main organizer around the community worship in the park for the last two years – an amazing opportunity to share in worship with one another AND to share in the one loaf and the one cup.
What I have not done as well in my first three years of ministry was to get involved actively transforming the community.  But this year, my work with youth got to me.  I realized I had to go deeper to help them.  And somehow I’m now on a school improvement advisory committee and hosting an ongoing conversation about how the community can better support and encourage our youth.
This work is so completely different from what I do on a day to day basis in the church. Much of that difference has to do with having the authority of a pastor.

My ministry in my congregation is ministry “with”  not ministry “for.” I am not someone who throws around my weight… instead I see my role as empowering my people to do ministry themselves.  I would rather work alongside my parishoners than lead them.

But in the community, the role of the pastor takes on a different flavor.  As one youth parent said a couple of weeks ago, “When I go to the school office and talk about a problem, it’s more of the same.  When Pastor Katie says something, they listen.”

To be honest, that authority scares me a little.  But it is also exciting.  God has put me in a place where I can speak on behalf of these parents and I have a powerful voice.  God has put me in a place where I can make connections between people and provide a literal space for those new relationships. God has put me in a place where I have a real and tangible ability to make a difference.

Tonight, our little community group met again.  And while the start of this journey is small and the momentum is slow, I can already sense the possibilities.  I am energized by the true and living hope that God is doing something in Marengo.  And I pray with thanksgiving that I get to be a part of that work.

my afternoon as a “telemarketer”

As our church is working on discerning their vision and mission, we have felt led to get some input from the community.  We want to know what others think about the needs in our midst, what they feel about the church’s role in our community, and what they might like to offer to help meet those needs.

So our grand idea was to have a phone bank.

We created a script.
We got some volunteers.
We put a notice in the paper that we would be calling folks.
We organized some yummy treats.

And then we got together to actually do it.

Our numbers were small, but mighty.

We practiced our phone calls with one another, edited our script, divided up the phone book for our community and our list of inactive/less active members, and set to work.

*ring, ring* = voicemail

*ring, ring* = no answer

*do, do, do* = this number has been disconnected.

*hello, I’m calling from the Methodist Church… CLICK*
My cell phone only records the last 20 calls I made, so I have no idea exactly how many I did make… but it was well over 20.  I talked in person with only four individuals.
Others in our group had much better luck.  Two other women talked with at least seven people.  The lone man in our small bunch had well over 13 responses. (Which makes me wonder about whether people are more willing to talk to an older man than a young woman who just might be a telemarketer selling something)
We talked with folks who were churched and unchurched, young and old, who lived in town and in the country. Probably 70% of the people we recieved information from people indicated that their top concern was the youth of our town.  It was amazing to have such a common response, although it was spoken of in a few different ways.
We ended the afternoon tired, worn out, but feeling like some good listening occured.  It wasn’t the way I usually think of a church group spending the day, but I think we heard from a few people we probably never would have talked to.
Our next step is a lunch with community leaders to get their perspectives about how the church can better support/encourage what they are doing and what needs they also see.

It’s quite a journey!!!

A Mighty Wind

This morning it is windy.  And that is an understatement.

Because of the cool weather we have had our windows open and the cats love to sit on the sill, with just the screen between them and the great outdoors.  It’s a good view, they can smell everything and their ability to hear the birds is increased ten-fold.

But this morning, the curtains are going everywhere with each gust of wind.  The breeze throughout the house moves things off the tables… and I love it.  It’s refreshing and cool and crisp and just a perfect morning to sit with some coffee and blog.

My cats are not pleased.

I think I spent about half an hour petting Tiki and reassuring him this morning.  We were sitting there in the living room and with every gust of wind, his ears would perk back and he would meow and I think he was a bit overstimulated for a lazy holiday morning.  He didn’t know where to look, or what to do, as this is not a typical occurance inside of our home.  I’ve noticed that since I left his side, he sits in the middle of the room, far away from the windows on both side.  Our other cat… Turbo… the one who likes to sit in the windows the best, has still not made an appearance.

Wind turbines like these have become common over the skies
in Iowa.  You can look out and see hundreds turning and know
that the wind is moving… where you would have forgotten it
was moving before.

The blowing of the wind always leads me to ponder the Holy Spirit.  She blows where she will, she stirs things up and creates a ruckus, and we are either comforted or agitated by her presence.

When we are ready and receptive to her promptings, it is a refreshing change of pace.  I was recently at a training event with some of my leaders and we were exasperated by the lack of movement we had seen with a process we were implementing at church.  We felt stuck and yet we were surrounded by people in prayer and song who had been hearing the Spirit’s beckoning.  And so got through the morning and sat down for lunch together and over food and breaking of bread, the Holy Spirit showed up.  In half an hour, we had completely reinvisioned how we might lead our church through this process and felt energized and moved to go wherever the Spirit sent us.  It was mighty.

But when we are not ready for that change, when we are not looking for the Spirit and she shows up… trouble is brewing.  We tend to isolate ourselves and run away.  We make noises and complaints about how we have never done things that way before.  We run around like chickens with our heads cut off and then when its obvious that the changes are here to stay – that the spirit is moving and there is nothing we can do about it, we plop down and give up.  We get in the way.  We refuse to budge.  That is how I responded (for the most part) to my calling.  I tried to ignore it.  I told myself and others it was never going to happen.  I headed off to do something else all together with my life.

But the Spirit will keep blowing.  And even when you sit down and cross your arms and your legs and refuse to budge the Spirit will gently nudge you to look around and somehow you’ll realize that you are where the Spirit wanted you to be all along.  And maybe at that time you’re just more receptive to seeing it.  And you stand up, and she fills you to the brim.  And you realize, it was a mighty ride.

Preaching in an Empire…

Today, our conference “Thursday Memo for Preachers” came across my inbox.  I’m usually challenged and inspired by Rev. Bill Cotton’s words – and today was no exception.

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord…”Jer. 2:12

Abraham Heschel in his classic work on the Prophets describes them as persons who become excited and agitated about matter that most of us take for granted. For example, ignoring the needs of the poor. Those old boys like Jeremiah seemed to have one less layer of skin than the rest of us, and that made then sensitive to all forms of injustice.

Have you wondered what Jeremiah would be saying to the richest nation on earth’s inability or unwillingness to see that children of the poor have access to a doctor. Each Tuesday the Grace Health Clinic discovers people without insurance- victims of this cruel system we live under. And should the church speak the words of Jeremiah regarding this injustice, some would call his words socialism and dismiss his raving. Jeremiah speaks in the text for Sunday of how the people have turned away from God, the fountain of living water, and dug cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

Our first parsonage in Fairly, Texas had a cistern. Along about August it would go dry and crack open and we would buy a load of water for $5.00, and it would be gone in a day or two unless we patched the cracks, only that didn’t work so well either. Cisterns that leak are not much good. Churches that ignore the prophets’ word are like broken cisterns.

Maybe Jeremiah is too much for the church and nation this week. If so we might try Dr. Luke’s description of Jesus telling us that when we give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame.. and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you..Luke 14:13

With all of the injustice that we face in these times, perhaps both Jeremiah and Luke are too troublesome. There simply is no place to run no place to hide from these texts this week if we are faithful to the text.

One last try. Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16 This text invites us to show hospitality to strangers and we do have an open door policy. Well the door is somewhat open. But, within that text are the words “Jesus Christ the Same, yesterday, today and forever”. Those words just feel good in the mouth. The only problem, if we practice the faith of Jesus who is always the same we must include the faith of Jeremiah. Still no place to run, no place to hide. The preaching life is tough with you live in an empire. Go preach anyway!

I was especially moved by the line – “should the church speak the words of Jeremiah regarding this injustice, some would call his words socialism and dismiss his raving.”

Our church is celebrating this Sunday the missional outreach of our congregation.  I am not standing up in the pulpit to preach – but I pray that these words of Jeremiah and Hebrews and Luke will not be ignored.  We will gather to celebrate the ways that we have fed the hungry, and helped those in prison, and brought healing to the sick, and reached out to the poor in this past year.  And I am so proud of my church for the amazing ways that they have given for those in need.
The Christmas Giving Tree for Tanzania
But something that has profoundly stood out to me is how few of us spend time with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned.  We are quick with our pocketbooks or with a food and clothing drive, but there are relatively few who are willing or able to head on over to the meal site and sit down with folks.  That is probably just as much the fault of our busy schedules and prioritizing of family as it is a discomfort with being around those we think might be different.
Dan Dick wrote about our “comfort-zones” this week on his blog.  And it was a reminder to me that discipleship involves growing and stretching and in some cases being disoriented so that we can be realigned with God’s priorities.  We all have different gifts and places of spiritual comfort, but the fullness of the experience of God is only reached if we are able to move outside of those areas and encounter God in the unfamiliar, too.

My prayer is that the testimony of those who have served with their hands and feet might be a witness this week.  My prayer is that their stories might help to nudge their fellow brothers and sisters into a more active and present love of their neighbor.  These are challening times in the rhetorical world.  Our nation is split on ideological lines, and my prayer is that their experience would provide a far better exposition of the challenging words for this Sunday than my preaching ever could.

The F.I.T. Challenge

For over a year now, Bishop Trimble has been talking about the F.I.T. Challenge.  And I think tonight, for the first time, I really understood how genius this very simple, simple concept is.

F.I.T. stands for Focus, Invest, and Tell.  It is the overarching framework for ministry in Iowa. I don’t have the brochure and all the details with me, but basically, we can’t do everything so we need to focus in on what is important, get people to invest their time and talents into it, and then above all, tell the stories of Jesus and transformed lives.

It also very nicely fits into a conference focus on health and wellness – especially for our clergy.  At conference this year, two men got up and shared their stories about how they were inspired by the F.I.T. challenge to lose weight and one lost 75 lbs in a year and the other lost 150!  Now that was some focus, investment into their health, and then some wonderful witnessing!

Tonight, at a mission team meeting, we were all over the place trying to figure out what our next projects should be.  One person on the team brought up how nice it would be to FOCUS on one project and really make it come alive as a congregation.  I think in the end, we decided that focusing on smaller projects, but one per month might be a more suitable option for where our church is right now… although I think in a year or two, also having one big project that we can continually support would be wonderful.

Anywho… One of the other suggestions this new team member had was that we should have a mission celebration and TELL the stories of what we have done so far this year. 

Our conference has this thing called Rainbow Covenant.  Churches are encouraged to give in mission – first by paying their apportionments, and then by supporting general categories of mission.  To be a 2nd mile giver, we are asked to give to all seven categories of mission (each represented by a color of the rainbow). But do you think that we had taken the time to really explain this to the church?  Do you think that anyone beyond our mission team knew what we were doing with all of these different projects?  No. Not really.

Bishop Trimble’s F.I.T. challenge teaches us that while having a focus is important, we also have to get people to invest in what we are doing.  And I think the number one way that we do that is by telling the story.  We have to show what a difference this ministry can make and then, we have to celebrate the ways we have been giving in mission.

In some ways we have done this already.  Our most successful mission projects have been the ones where we had a hands on connection.  We raised nearly $1500 for the Personal Energy Transportation (PET) Project… mostly because we actually brought in a PET and let people see it and rode it around during worship and had this huge connection with what the money would be used for.  We told the story.  And people were instantly invested.
So, out of our conversation tonight, we are going to create a yearly mission celebration Sunday where we lift up what we have been doing as a congregation.  And we are going to create a bulletin board that demonstrates our progress with the rainbow covenant and we are going to fill in the rainbow of colors with our mission giving money, with pictures and with stories of the projects we have worked on so far. 

I told a friend tonight that I feel like it was both a “lightbulb” moment and an  “I can’t believe I’m so dumb as to not think of this before” moment.  While I had heard over and over and over again about the F.I.T. challenge, I don’t think I thought to apply it to our church ministry.  But how simple is it to use in our mission team.  To lift up the focus projects, to help people invest, and to tell the stories of success and transformation.  And what if we did that with worship?  Focusing on God, investing our time and energy into helping people connect in new ways and helping them invest their time and energy, and telling the stories of Jesus?  or with our PPR?  Or education team? 

It’s so simple. It’s genius, really.

dipping the toes in

I can’t believe how fast the last month has gone. Our mission trip was AMAZING (see my sermon blog for video/pictures). I’ve had some really good sabbath time. I have been reconnecting with my hubby over our anniversary celebrations (2 years now!). And in the midst of all of that – life at the church has been hectic, unfocused, and I’m trying to just put one foot in front of the other.

I’m aware more than ever that we really need a clear and focused mission here at the church. And I’m also aware more than ever that it has to be something that comes from the congregation – not a vision that I express from the pulpit. Our conference is offering this missional transformation process that I firmly believe our congregation needs to experience, work through, but I can’t figure out how to get them to buy in. I can’t figure out what conversations need to happen, and with whom, in order for the people of the church to stop just dipping their toes in and to take a leaping jump off of the diving board.

There are four or five people who I know have been feeling this yearning for something more. Maybe that is where we begin. Sitting down over a cup of coffee and talking about what’s really important right now and how we make it happen. Please keep us in your prayers!!!