Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Open Table For ALL

The topic of LGBTQ equality is a sticky subject within our churches today and in the past. However, the younger generations of people are more understanding and caring of LGBTQ people. My generations of young people who are also involved in the church don’t see the need to discriminate against anyone. One example of this is during the PNW Annual Conference this year we ended up getting into a heated discussion of some sort involving LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. I remember hearing from young person saying; “why are we even debating on this topic? The Bible talks about divorce as being wrong but people still get divorced anyways. The Bible doesn’t say anything about gay marriage so why are we even talking about it here". 

Being from the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church we are more progressive and forward thinkers then most parts of the church. The Western Jurisdiction acknowledges that the United Methodist Church is wrong and has done harm. 

A statement of Gospel Obedience:

In response to our common belief that God’s grace and love is available to all persons, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church states our belief that the United Methodist Church is in error on the subject of “homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.”
We commend to our bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings, the challenge to operate as if the statement in Para. 161F (of the Book of Discipline) does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome. (Link here to the orginal text). 

Why am I bringing this up one might ask? As a very liberal progressive United Methodist who has friends both as laity and clergy who are in the LGBTQ community I have seen the harm the church has caused them. There are so many young people who want to be ordained by their conference but cant because of their sexual orientation.  Thankfully in some conferences this is changing because we are seeing more and more people who are getting ordained and are open about their sexuality to their conference and being affirmed in their call to ministry.

I decided to be a reconciling United Methodist because I believe that everyone is sacred in the eyes of God regardless of your sexual orientation.   Your sexuality is God’s given gift to you.  I would like to end with some Lyrics by Derek Webb from his song “What Matters More”
    You say you always treat people like you'd like to be
     I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
    You love when people put words in your mouth
    About what you believe, make you sound like a freak

   'Cause if you really believe what you say you believe
   You wouldn't be so damn reckless with the words you speak
   Wouldn't silence your concern when the liars speak
   Denying all the dying or the remedy

   Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
   Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

Using Social Media at PNW Annual Conference

At Annual Conference this year we decided to take a risk and have a young person live tweet the plenary sessions as they happened. Social media in the church is something congregations have struggled with understanding the best way to use these tools to help their congregation.  With Annual Conference we decided that social media was going to a part of our holy conferencing. One might ask why add social media to an already busy Annual Conference? Well, in my opinion we added an official tweeter because we saw the need and want of people to try something different. With this tweeting through the conference page and personal tweeting with the hash tag #pnwac13 we saw people voice their opinions both good and bad, see the struggles we were facing with as they came in, and poke fun at things that were entertaining or annoying.
Being the head tweeter was rather daunting at times. Having to sit at the Bishop’s table with his crew overlooking the whole body of Annual Conference. I needed to make sure my emotions of my own opinions didn’t get in the way of helping people understand what was happening during plenary. I have to admit there was a few times I had to ask the twitter world what we were discussing during plenary because I was completely lost by all the amendments and motions people were tossing out.  If you happened to see me making faces while at the table, I may or may not have been having staring contests with my incoming and outgoing DS’s in the Seven Rivers district (thanks Mary and Juli).
I’m sure people are wondering if head tweeting was easy? In all honesty it was easy and confusing at times. Trying to figure out what to tweet when and how to write the tweet in a mere few seconds before the discussion passed. I often got fielded questions by people tweeting on where to find more information about a topic. The second most thing people tweeted or texted me about was the click of Bishop Grant’s pen. I numerous times was asked to please figure out a way to silence his pen. Being the head tweeter had its advantages as well. I could see the wide range of perspective of people’s opinions on different legislative topics. I as a young person at the head table had the advantage of telling Shirley and Bishop Grant to recognize young people need to speak on topics rather then just letting the young people be voiceless when we need a voice in todays times.
I hope the conversations we have started from Annual Conference and the importance of using social media to break boundaries will be used in congregations around the conference. Using social media is a viable option not just for your own church members but for reaching out to people who wouldn’t normally step foot into your churches. Next time you see a person on their cellphones in church don’t tell them to get off but ask them what they are doing.  The younger generation has a lot to tell the older generations about social media. We do care about the church, social media including twitter is one outlet we use to share our faith with others.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Young adults: Creating Disciples Amongst a Secular Demographic

If you ask most young people, either in college (18-22) or recent graduates just entering the workforce (22-28), most would say they are not religious. There’s lots of speculation as to why young adults don’t identify with a faith or a faith community, such as time commitment (Sunday morning church services are too early or inconvenient) or sometimes the atmosphere and attitude of the church is not attractive to them. So how can the United Methodist Church be more attractive and inviting to young adults?

For starters, the young adults who are currently involved in the Methodist Church should feel valued and respected. I’m not saying that every single Methodist church disregards young adults, and I imagine the ones that do are not doing it consciously. Outside of a college town, it’s very unusual to find a church with a vivacious young adult ministry, because most churches are not getting the leadership, support, and guidance they need to implement such ministries. Obviously, most college students or recent graduates have not yet settled down, gotten married, and started families. They are either still in or fresh out of academia and are feeling out the waters of post-graduate life. They are not making six-figure salaries (if they are salaried at all) and cannot afford to be large givers to the church, and expecting them to do so is an unfair and unrealistic expectation. As a result, many churches overlook the gifts and talents that young adults bring because their gifts are not monetary. That’s a huge problem. If the church only supports and values abundant givers, how can we ever expect to reach the least, the last, and the lost? The truth of the matter is, the people the church needs to reach the most are not going to be abundant monetary givers. The people the church needs to reach are young adults who need a community in which they feel wanted and loved.

I understand that many people get turned off of church in their youth or early college years. When I was first in college and on my own, I didn’t feel like getting up early on a Sunday morning when I had been out the night before with all my friends. All I wanted to do was sleep in and waste the day. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a faith community in my college town that had a college ministry and an awesome pastor who, per the senior pastor of the church, directs 75% of her time to Wesley Foundation and pasturing to college students. It’s an awesome program, and I’m so blessed to have it in my life. However, it seems as though as soon as a student graduates college and begins to start their own life, they fall through the cracks. They feel as though traditional worship is not necessarily comfortable for them, but then again neither is the college group. They may feel comfortable in an alternative worship service, such as the one offered at my college-town church, but outside of the one hour service on Sunday morning, where do they feel connected? It seems to me that churches with a currently present young adult population should be using that population to their advantage. They should be obtaining feedback from those young adults, understanding what is appealing about the church to them and what is not, determining how they feel connected and how they would like to be more connected. It’s all about feeling supported and cared about. It’s a basic human need, and it’s free for the church to satisfy. If every church had an alternative/contemporary type worship service that appealed to young adults, and maybe even offered a small group opportunity for them, that’s a perfect place to start. The first major step, as stated previously, is to use the young adults a church currently has and listen to their feedback to understand what can be done to make the church a more welcoming, inclusive, and positive experience for young adults.

Creating a welcoming environment for young adults is not necessarily an easy feat, but just because it’s difficult does not mean it’s not important. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What We Mean When We Pray The Lord's Prayer

What do we really say and mean when we recite the Lord's Prayer? What are our intentions? Are we just going through the motions? The Lord's Prayer, in my opinion, is one of the most holy prayers that we pray; we say it in church at every service, and we often pray it on our own. But what do those words really mean?

Let's break it down:

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name-
Oh Holy God in Heaven above
Thy Kingdom come-
We desire the Kingdom of Heaven to be here
Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven-
The will of God be done on Earth as in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread-
Supply us with our daily needs
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us-
Forgive us for hurting others, as we forgive those who have hurt us
Lead us not into temptation-
Keep us on a path to you
Deliver us from evil-
Hold us close to you; may our lives be favorable in your eyes
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever-
Because you are the Almighty and Powerful God, all glory to You

As I was breaking down the words of the Lord's Prayer, a couple of things stumped me and caused me to really think critically about how I understand God and this prayer. First, "thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven" is a unique phrase in this prayer. After hearing pastor, author, and activist Brian McLaren speak at Annual Conference this year, I feel it is important to note that when we say the Lord's Prayer, we are not asking for entrance into Heaven, or into the Kingdom of God, but rather we are asking for God to equip us and work through us to bring the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God) to Earth.

The second conundrum is "lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil". I struggled to differentiate between those two phrases, because although they seem different, they are actually very similar. "Lead us not into temptation" focuses on keeping oneself on the straight and narrow path to God, while "deliver us from evil" focuses more on being held close to God and asking Him to protect us from "evil" which can also be understood as "temptation". Though some scholars and theologians argue that "deliver us from evil" is referring to deliverance from the devil or protection from Satan, I think it can really just be a way of asking God to hold you close to Him so that you are able to avert your life from temptation and evil, no matter how such things manifest themselves.

In closing, I believe The Lord's Prayer is not only one of the most holy prayers, but also one of the most beautiful prayers when spoken aloud in unison. Let us not forget the true meanings of our words when we pray this prayer (or any prayer for that matter), but rather be intentional and deliberate in our askings of God.