Saturday, June 22, 2013

My 1st Methodist Funeral Experience

               I always thought that the first Methodist funeral I attended would be of a sweet old woman name Bethel, my denomination like all mainline denominations is made up of a lot of old people. I love old people; I always have so I have no problem with being in churches surrounded by people with gray hair. I did however have a problem when the first Methodist funeral I attended was for my friend Kim Kaiser who was nowhere near being old; she hadn't even gotten the chance to graduate from college yet.

               For those of you who don’t know me, I wear my emotions like the latest fashion trend, if I am sad I will cry loudly and openly, I feel no guilt or shame in being a person that shows how I feel, but when I got the news last Saturday that my friend Kim was killed in a collision I had no idea how to process the information. I sent out a text to 3 of my closest friends (Ned, Ty, and Bubba). I specifically didn't tell my mother for fear she would give me some Calvinist comfort about how this is all a part of God’s masterplan rubbish. Obviously, predestination brings comfort to some people, but I’m a pupil of John Wesley, my God doesn’t plan on killing 20-somethings in car accidents to bring Himself glory. Of the three friends I texted only one replied, Ned, and Ned went on to give me the exact answer that I didn't want to hear about how God was going to turn this experience into something good. I love Ned, I respect Ned and acknowledge that he is so much smarter than I am it is embarrassing, but I think/know that he is wrong. I don’t think God planned for my friend to die in the seat of her car on the way to pick up her cousin Hailey from a youth retreat, I don’t believe that God planned for her to die before we could go and see “Man of Steel” together, I don’t believe that God wants Hailey to feel overwhelming guilt for Kim’s death, that’s not the God that I know, the God that loves me and speaks to me and tells that I am created in His image.

               Fast-forward to the morning of Friday June 21st, I am in FUMC Denton acting as a greeter; I have yet to break-down emotionally. I directed traffic until I sat with my friends from the Denton Wesley then the slideshows start, and the tears come. I managed to stay relatively stable until her aunt and uncle came forward to tell family stories about her, and then my eyes became waterfalls. Then came Rev. Cammy Gaston and she gave a great sermon about hope, and resurrection, but what was really awesome was the prayer afterwards. The prayer basically told God everything I was thinking, it brought frustrations with the injustice of a 22-year-old dying in a car wreck, yet the trust in God being with us, our very present help in time of trouble. It was healing, and theologically sound, trusting in God yet not an easy answer like “God is in control”, it was what my spirit needed. After the service ended my friends from the Wesley and I wept like babies on one another, then went to the reception to tell stories about Kim to her family, because the family wanted to know how she had blessed us.

Lisa Gungor & myself
               Around 10PM on Friday Gungor’s twitter account mentioned that they would be screening their new DVD and they sent out a blanket invite. I called my friend Aubrey, and we hopped in her car and headed to Covenant Church in Carrolton to see this DVD. My heart was healed once more by the words of Michael Gungor as he talked about the beautiful balance of life and death. He spoke of how billions of new stars are being born, BILLIONS, and how humans are mortal and how we die, but that God isn't done, God is still creating. Then this beautiful chorus rose up “Holy, holy, holy Lord – the earth is yours and singing.” And another song stated “These bones cry out…only you can raise the dead, can lift my head up…” God has lifted my head up, through my friends, through music and impromptu DVD screenings, and through a random clerk at 7-11 giving me a Slurpee for free last night. Were these things predestined for me so that I could be blessed? I doubt it, but I know that they are still from God, the same God that causes the sun to shine on both the just and the unjust, has taken time out of His busy schedule to lift my head up.

Monday, June 10, 2013

SWTX Annual Conference: Day 4

               Sunday! This particular morning was rather interesting in that it went by so quickly. The report on new church development was absolutely inspirational, the SWTX Conference has plans to start 14 new faith communities in our geographical area by the end of next year – I was going to make a motion we set a goal of 10 churches in 7 years, so needless to say I was out-dreamed. The issue of where to host our next gathering was brought forward, Corpus Christi has been hosting for quite a while, and so like usual it was expected we would return there once again next year. I went forward to ask if we would continue to meet at the same place after our conference – I was essentially told we’ll get there when we get there, but it’s a discussion I’m sure will continue later on. We got to applaud a lot of wonderful people that work for the conference and that do wonderful work with the poor and the marginalized. We also celebrated the act that $1 million of the the denomination-wide $50 million goal was met by our conference alone for Imagine No Malaria. God is doing great things in SWTX, of that I have no doubt.

               The appointments list was released, and so we moved to the worship Service of Covenants. It was a moving time seeing all of the new/returning appointees stand with their lay delegates and at the end everyone stood and prayed as one congregation. It was truly a blessed time, even if the awesome sermon by Reverend Jasmine Smothers came to steal the show. Her sermon stepped on every toe in the room, but it was a needed balm to our conference as it moves from the struggle of Thursday afternoon, and the drama of Saturday’s nomination battle. She challenged all of us to speak the truth humbly, and in love. We were warned about the way we speak and the methods of speaking we use bring about change in our Church and in our churches. Reverend Smothers stomped on the feet of the young clergy, reminding them to walk humbly; and she stomped on the feet of the elder members of the church who have grown comfortable and refuse to change to serve the purposes of the Kingdom. It was an awesome sermon and I was inspired by Reverend Smothers.

               One of the most wonderful things for me this weekend was getting to fellowship with so many awesome retired clergy. It was so cool to hear their stories and especially to see the light that comes to their eyes when they recall their first appointments. It was so great to talk with a bunch of Methodists who are much more advanced in years than I am, oftentimes we pit the young and old against one another in struggles for power just like the world does, but it is so refreshing to be in an Annual Conference where young and old aren't struggling with one another – but they are walking hand-in-hand on their way to serve the Lord with gladness making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I was blessed this year, I struggled with our conference, but I couldn't help but walk away blessed. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

SWTX Annual Conference: Day 3

Me & my bestie Bishop Jim Dorff
               I decided to sleep in on Saturday; I was greeted in the morning by coffee at my door as well as the beautiful baby of my pastor, Caleb. He was grumpy, much like I was ( it’s why we get along). I rode the shuttle bus to the convention center and got to have great conversations with the most delightful persons who are advanced in year.  The 3rd plenary session reminded me once again that the UMC is a massive bureaucracy as we discussed the Unification Implementation Team’s request to suspend our standing rules – their request was not amendable or debatable so it was really more of an edict than a request. Pensions were brought up and approved, blah blah blah.
               What was really interesting was the move to replace the Rev Abby Parker (Austin District) with Rev Pamela Dykehouse (Corpus Christi), The Corpus Christi District’s argument, from the floor anyway, was that they had no representation on the board that Abby Parker was nominated for, the Transitional Uniting Table. Their assessment was fair, a very American “No taxation without representation”-esque move, but I found it interesting that Victoria District which also wasn't represented on the that Table didn't move in a similar fashion, also I’m surprised that Abby Parker, the only deacon on that Table was the one targeted as well as the Austin District, when the San Antonio District held the most seats. But, I digress – a vote was taken to see who would make the cut and Rev Parker won by the closest of margins, then we moved on to another vote as the Corpus Christi District worked to replace another nominee with their own, their move failed and some members of their district took to Twitter to complain (a move I make myself all the time). Complaints were valid as well; Rev Ryan Barnett tweeted about how unfair it was that the only district that paid 100% of its apportionments wasn't being represented on the Uniting Table or the Unification Team.
Reverend Jasmine Smothers and myself
               Then came our worship service, like a wave of grace. Let me say this, our speaker Rev Jasmine Smothers brought the Word of God in a way that recharged my spiritual batteries. I felt challenged and invigorated as she preached from the Gospel of Mark on the paraplegic man who had friends that brought him to Jesus by way of a hole in the ceiling; their faith caused Jesus to heal their friend. She challenged us to have an encounter with Jesus, then go out and help others encounter Christ as well. I worked through lunch, blogging, but our Bible study on the Gospel of John after lunch was invigorating and refreshing – even filling. John is my favorite of the Gospels and the most complicated, so listening to a person who loves it as much as I do was so much fun. I didn't live on God’s Word alone though, the lovely Joe Tanasi brought me chicken fingers, and they were like manna from Heaven.
Rev. Valerie Vogt & I cheesing it up
               The District Superintendent’s Report brought an amazing surprise, a Mariachi band burst through that doors and proceeded to serenade us all with beautiful music. It. Was. Awesome. After they left we had to get serious and vote on Constitutional Amendments from General Conference 2012, all of them were rather trite so I assume they will all pass.

Eric took the glasses off to show off his clergy fashion
               The Ordination Service is my favorite and it didn't disappoint this year. This year my pastor, Eric Vogt was being commissioned, as he had been a licensed local pastor before and his beautiful wife Valerie was being accepted as an ordained Elder in full-connection with the annual conference. It was so moving to see so many deacons and elders join their peers on their journey of ordained ministry.  I was blessed by the reception getting to see so many people blessed by these people and the ministry of lives was a blessing. Of course I harassed Bishop Dorff and my district superintendent about planting new churches in East Austin. (Yes I’m that lay person) It was a great day, and I am excited for tomorrow morning’s worship service.

It was raining clergy

Saturday, June 8, 2013

SWTX Annual Conference: Day 2

               It has been my goal to make it this entire annual conference without buying any food for myself, on Friday I broke my streak and bought some mini corn dogs (they were delicious in case you were wondering). Anyhow, yesterday the Mary Ann Kaiser dramatic saga concerning her ordination being discontinued by a vote of clergy I’m going to call it “NGAM” or “No gays allowed movement”. Reverend John Elford of University United Methodist Church in Austin requested a ruling of law on the matter of the Book of Discipline being ignored as clergy took action that was unconstitutional (for our Church). The Bishop has 30 days to make a ruling and will then send it onward to the Judicial Council. Also the national branch of Reconciling Ministries hopped on board to support Mary Ann as well as GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). At 2PM CST hundreds of people tweeted their support and their demands for justice for Mary Ann, a reminder of how global our Church really has, and how many of its people are seeking justice for all.

               But, I’m getting ahead of myself, my day started at 6AM as I headed to the Methodist Renewal Movement breakfast where Rev. Wendy Deichmann spoke about the renewal that has been taking place at United Theological Seminary. Her speech at some points sounded lie a really long commercial for her seminary, but I still found myself inspired by the beautiful work that the Holy Spirit did through her to save UTS.  Also, their breakfast tacos were delicious and filled with plenty of God’s perfect gift to mankind, bacon. I also got to briefly catch up with Rev. Ryan Barnett of Saint John’s UMC in Corpus Christi, who also happens to be a founding member of the Methodist Renewal Movement, he’s a really busy guy so it was a blessing to get to run into him.

               The first two plenary sessions were rather boring and uneventful with the exception being the call for legal review.  I had a lovely dinner with the Reverend Abby Parker, and her boo-thang JD Herrera. Then we went onward to a Young Adult hangout where we all sat around and discussed our lives our hopes and our dream, and of course our evil plans to overthrow the elderly (just kidding). It was a wonderful time of fellowship and I was blessed by the new friends I made, as well as the wonderful encouragement it was to see that I wasn't the only person in the conference that didn't have gray hair. Saturday is a new day, and we shall see which way the Spirit is moving. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

SWTX Annual Conference: Day 1

                I am a Black male, and I live in the South, discrimination is nothing new to me.  As a Christian, one place where I have always found safety and comfort has been in the Church; the Church being a place that affirms me being made in the image of Almighty God, the Church that tells me I have sacred worth, the Church the forces me to see that all others also have this same holiness within them. Today, the first day of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference I got to see the Church cease to be a place of safety, and instead transform itself back into an institution of oppression.
               Mary Ann Kaiser, a woman filled with the mercy and grace of God and overflowing with the Holy Spirit was denied orientation in my annual conference because of her sexual orientation. The vote was very close 124 to 119; but her call and her gifts were denied entry into the ever exclusive “straights only club” known as the clergy. She has served at University United Methodist as the Youth Minister and gone to seminary, she did everything right – except for one thing, she was honest about who she is and whom she loves.  Our Conference’s Reconciling Ministry Team had a special dinner where we hoped we would celebrate her ordination victory; instead we used the time to pray for our sister, our Church, and our leaders. We prayed that the church would cease to be the oppressor of the LGBT community and start to be the body of Christ.
               The Memorial Service was beautiful and very applicable especially this part of the confession: “Paralyzed by fear, we have remained silent when we should have spoken up; yielded to bigotry instead of standing for equality…”

I refuse to yield.

I refuse to remain silent.

               I will stand for equality, so help me God I will not stop until this Church ceases to be a harbor for hatred, ignorance, and oppression and transforms itself by the power of the Holy Spirit into an Altar for all, where all believers can come and fully participate in the glorious gift of grace that Christ offers the world. Amen.