Pastor’s Corner July 1, 2018

Divergent Church
 
I recently read an article about Tim Shapiro and Kara Faris’ new book Divergent Church: The Bright Promise of Alternative Faith Communities. The book focuses on doing church differently, and, even though the ways seem unconventional, they are rooted in deep faith practices.

The typical Christian life is going through changes. Our country has changed. Communities of faith need to take risks and be innovative in making Church relatable again. This book explores some possibilities for offering several ways to experience God at work in the world.

Two quick lessons I learned in my first church internship involved unconventional church and fear around risk: The first involved an existing contemporary service on Sunday morning. It was decided to try the service downstairs in the fellowship hall to help with interruptions by the other two services and to have worship in a space that wasn’t the typical “church” feel in hopes to reach people uncomfortable in a church. After about a month, the senior pastor had received so much anonymous criticism letters he moved the service back upstairs to the sanctuary. The contemporary service continued to be the “middle child” of the congregation, never receiving the support or respect it deserved.
The second involved my intern church reopening a closed UMC in a neighboring town. The church sat in a Hispanic neighborhood with Spanish as the primary language. A team was put together to lead Sunday worship and then cook and serve a free dinner on Tuesdays. Over 120 people ate on Tuesdays. Families who may have otherwise gone without were given food. Sunday worship did not grow. Soon, the elaborate home-cooked meal turned into cheap alternatives and quick meals with little prep time. Sunday worship did not grow. The new church shut its doors. I overheard the original team talking right before it closed, and their reason for stopping was because they were fixing nice meals, and all “those people wanted was food” and didn’t come to our church.

Traditional church is still very needed. Also, new, innovative ways of doing church are still very needed. Just as we all learn differently and through different means, we all experience God in different ways. These divergent churches explored in Shapiro and Faris’ book are nontraditional, possibly unusual, but are serving as people’s main congregational gathering, providing spiritual formation, connection, and a sense of identity.

I share these stories not to point and scoff, but because they have shaped my ministry and affected my theology. I will never forget that conversation I overheard or the drastic effects those decisions had on that church community. I also learned the importance of holy risk-taking, or also how we like to say, following the holy spirit. It can lead us down paths that seem not worth our energy, money, and time. But, introducing someone to God’s love is the name of our game.
Come talk to me about your holy risk-taking ideas!

Pastor Sami
 


Pastor’s Corner June 24, 2018

A response to immigrant family separation:
 
Dear brothers and sisters, siblings in Christ,
In the news, we have seen disturbing reports and pictures of children being taken from their parents and placed in detention centers by our government. Their crime was fleeing their homeland due to violence and threats of death, to make a perilous journey over harsh geography to seek safety within our borders.
 
I remember another time a family crossed a border for similar reasons. When Jesus was born, Herod—who was in power—became threatened by the news of his birth since some were already calling Jesus “King of the Jews.” He sent the Wise Men to see the boy. Herod told them it was so that he could honor him, but he really wanted to know his whereabouts so he could kill him. The Wise Men, after laying their gifts before Jesus, were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and Jesus’ father Joseph was also warned in a dream to flee with his family. They became refugees in Egypt, where they stayed until it was safe to return home. When Herod learned that he had been outwitted, he ordered the murder of every boy in Bethlehem under the age of two.
 
This event is known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” Matthew describes the scene with a quote from the prophet
Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” -Matthew 2:18
 
Can you hear Rachel weeping for her children?
 
The horror that is happening to children in our country was multiplied when government officials used scripture to justify these actions. We who follow Jesus know that God keeps widening the borders of who is in and who is out through Jesus’ life, teachings and ministry, Paul’s Emmaus road experience, and Peter’s vision. If the law is not rooted in the Love Ethic of Jesus, who keeps expanding our understanding of who is our brother and sister, it harms and invites death rather than reconciles and brings life.
 
Can you hear Rachel weeping for her children?
 
Scripture reminds us over and over again to welcome the stranger:
Exodus 23:9 — “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Leviticus 19:34 — “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Deuteronomy 1:16 — “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.”
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 — “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
0Deuteronomy 24:17-18 — “You shall not deprive a resident alien…of justice.”
Matthew 25:31-46 — “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Hebrews 13:2 — “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
 
Some of us learned a lesson about how to encounter the Bible when we traveled to Cuernavaca last fall. For the members of the base Christian community we visited, bible study is more than just reading and reflecting on God’s word. It requires action that is transformational. The Word of God should intersect with the lives of God’s people, so as they read the Bible, they look around at what is happening in their community, then think about what the scripture is compelling them to do. This is followed by action. The community then evaluates what they did so they could learn more. And then they celebrate.
 
May the cries of Rachel be heard in your sanctuary. As scripture is read and prayers offered, may you listen for what God is asking of you and your community. May you respond as faithful followers of Jesus, who calls us to create Beloved Community—that place of love, compassion, connection, and justice for all of God’s children.

Blessings,
Bishop Karen P. Oliveto



Pastor’s Corner June 17, 2018

On this Father’s Day, I think back to when I was eleven and I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Though I had no idea what profession in which I would end up, I always knew that I wanted to be a father. I have been sure of this fact since I was three years old and playing house with my sister. I used to pretend to change diapers and play with her dolls much more than she played with my G.I. Joes or Transformers. It made me feel accomplished to be a caregiver.

That continues today. I have been blessed with a wonderful marriage that bore two fantastic children. Turner, my oldest, is a sensitive and sweet boy that makes me proud every day of his emotional intelligence and positive demeanor. He cares so deeply for others and tries to do his best always. Nia, my five-year-old daughter, is brilliantly feisty and powerful. She can look you in the eye and tell you “no” with certainty in her position or cuddle for an hour during family movie nights. She is sweet and strong and carries a confidence about her that makes me a bit jealous.

They both bring such an immense amount of joy to my life it is hard to put into words. I watch them as they sleep and cover them with a blanket when they are cold and my heart fills with life. We tell terrible jokes around the dinner table and I marvel at how their laughs sound just like mine. We sing songs in the car and I look at them in disbelief, (mostly because they know all the words but can’t remember to feed the dog). I pick them up from school and relish the moment when I take them into my arms and squeeze them. We wrestle and I tickle them until they squeal.

I know this does not last forever, and when times get tough, I tell myself about the wonderful things that I get to experience with them every day. Turner will be in fourth grade next year and he is already leaps and bounds smarter and more precocious than I was as a child. Nia will be in kindergarten and she already knows her numbers, letters and can write several words.

I am so proud to be their dad. I try not to cling too tightly to their childhood and make sure they have the room to grow and become the man and woman they were meant to be. But it is hard. I know these moments are fleeting. Yesterday, I was changing diapers and cleaning bottles. Tomorrow, I will be going to graduations and paying for college. And before you know it, I will be Grandpa Hank.

The best I can do is continue to be the consistent force in their life that teaches love and compassion, grit and toughness, and confidence in what they are and who they are. Because being the father of these two children in partnership with my wife is exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Happy Father’s Day
Matt Hankins


Pastor’s Corner June 10, 2018

The Third Place

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. — 1 Corinthians 12:26 NRSV

 

The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference published an article written by Kristina Gonzalez, Director of Leadership Development for an Inclusive Church for the PNW Conference. The article, titled What Can Methodists Learn From Starbucks?[1] discusses the approach the corporation Starbucks has taken to systemwide unconscious bias and racism. The company took a day-long pause on May 29 for a systemwide training and reflection time in response to an incident in a Philadelphia store earlier this spring when a store manager summoned law enforcement to confront two Black men simply waiting for a friend to arrive. Starbucks apologized to the men, and the manager was fired.

 

This came in the middle of many public dismissals: perpetrators of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace immediately fired without question, public social media rants becoming grounds for immediate cancellation and dismissal, and many more cases of strict and swift (thankfully!) consequences. For myself, I see this as relief in the midst of severe leniency and ignorance from the past decades. Gonzalez writes about the absence of systemic responses to issues that allow discrimination or abuse to go unchecked. Starbucks, though may not be everyone’s favorite coffee shop, has taken significant and unpopular steps to address bias systemwide.

 

Starbucks was founded on the principle of Third Place: a gathering place outside of home and work. It is to be a place of relaxation, interaction, meeting, debating, reading, enjoying coffee and tea in community. The training, along with reflecting on bias in our society, staff dreamt about how to create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong. Then, Starbucks made their training materials public, providing model ideas for others.

 

Check them out here: https://starbuckschannel.com/thethirdplace/

 

What are your Third Places? Is the church one of your places? Where are our embedded biases? Gonzalez points out the reality that the people called Methodists have had countless moments in our history similar to Starbucks’ moment. How did we respond? Often, it has been to split or segregate. What if we didn’t? What if we did something different? What if we reflected on our biases and then dreamt of how to create space of Third Places…where everyone feels like they belong–because they do?

 

Peace,

 

Pastor Sami

[1] http://www.pnwumc.org/news/what-can-methodists-learn-from-starbucks/