Monday, February 28, 2011

Professor Stirs Up Alaska Clergy

Last week the clergy and lay professionals under appointment gathered at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Anchorage for our annual retreat.  Dr. Elaine Heath was our resource leader who stirred our thinking about how we do church and how we might do church in the future.  She asked some good questions.  Are we too married to the attractional model of church where we build it and they will come?  Research suggests that this only works 40% of the time.  What would church be like if everything we did was measured in terms of its missional value?  What if we became a kenotic church where emptying ourselves for the sake of others was our guiding light?  We are so attached to our buildings and budgets that our focus has been narrowed and the poor become objects of our mission rather than people with whom we are in relationship.

This retreat and the winter meetings have stirred a number of us.  I know of three pastors who have already talked with their congregations.  Jon Disburg shelved his sermon series and confessed to his congregations Sunday about his need to fall in love with Jesus again.  Carlo Rapanut in his sermon confessed that he has become too preoccupied with the wonderful ministries happening inside the church to the neglect of people outside the church.  Charles Martindell shared a vision with his Sunday School class of a New Day community being possible in Homer. 

We are not talking about doing away with our buildings and the amazing ministries that are happening.  But we are talking about a shift in priorities where the needs of the world determine our mission.   We are talking about deconstructing some of our conference structures to make us more mission agile.  Bishop Hagiya is organizing a task group to examine ways we can streamline our many rules.  Look for a report at this annual conference.

Something new is bubbling.  Dr. Heath believes that Alaska can be a missional model that can lead the entire United Methodist Church into a new day of being the Church of Jesus Christ.  I invite our pastors and laity to share how you plan to carry this vision to your church and community with a comment post.  Let's keep this conversation going.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alaska United Methodist Rendezvous

This week is one of our three big events as clergy and lay leaders of the Alaska United Methodist Conference converge on Anchorage for our Winter Rendezvous.  We also have a Fall Rendezvous in October and Annual Conference in early June.  Why is it important for our conference to pay travel expenses three times a year for these gatherings?  Let me share a story.

A reader once wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper commenting on how he had sat in church and listened to thousands of sermons in his lifetime.  He was questioning their value because he could not remember them.  Responding to this letter another reader wrote a response that went something like this.  "My wife is a great cook.  I have enjoyed thousands of her meals over the years.  But I can't tell you what I ate on February 23, 1978 or many other dates.  But I can tell you that without them I would not have enjoyed the life I have lived.  Those meals fed and nurtured my body and soul.  In the same way so have all the sermons I have heard from caring pastors over the years.  I can say that without them my soul would not have enjoyed the abundant life God has blessed me with."

Our conference gatherings are food for our connectional souls.  We United Methodists are a connectional people.  While others in the lower 48 may be tempted to take this for granted we in Alaska understand that it is our lifeblood.  Tomorrow begins our retreat for pastors and lay professionals under appointment.  We will sing and pray and listen to our bishop and resource teacher.  It will be important for the health of our souls to gather for spiritual and community formation.  We may not remember the details of this gathering down the road but we will cherish the times as we recall how important this feeding has been for our souls.

I invite us all to pray for travel mercies and for the spiritual and connectional hearts of our pastors and lay leaders as we gather this week.  God will feed us and we will return to our parishes renewed and refreshed to continue our ministries in the name of Jesus Christ.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Future Church

A major focus of my ministry as superintendent is to meet with my counterparts from the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians in Alaska.  I meet regularly with Mike, Curt, Mike, and now Mark for spiritual reflection, personal sharing, and talk around how we can share ministry in Alaska.  On the table are issues like lay leader training especially among our native people, sharing clergy, merging and yoking churches, and a common witness for Christ in the public sector on homelessness and domestic violence.

Now it is time to move this conversation to a broader level: to the clergy and laity of all four denominations.  When we discovered that three of us held leadership meetings in Anchorage in February the Lutherans and Methodists changed their dates to coincide with the Presbyterian meetings so we could come together on Friday, February 25 at St. John United Methodist Church and celebrate what God can do with even more cooperation among the body of Christ.  Food, table conversation, worship, mass choir, holy communion, and dessert!  Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath, professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas will be our preacher.  Elaine grew up in Alaska and understands our context.  She will help us think about what the church could look like in the future.

I am pumped to say the least!  I want to encourage our clergy and lay leaders in our various communities to give serious thought about what shared ministries might be possible with sisters and brothers from other Christian traditions.

Clergy are encouraged to wear their robes and green stoles.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Beware of an Invitation to Snowmachine with the Superintendent!

I am seeing something of a pattern.  Bad things are happening when I have invited Alaska clergy to go snowmachining with me.  Last year I picked up Robert Hicks in single digit weather and we drove to Hatcher Pass for a ride.  Not!  The area was closed. 

Last weekend I picked up Peter Perry for a ride in Willow.  After a flat trailer tire that came off and rolled down Muldoon Rd. we finally made it out of Anchorage after 3 hours.  Then the sled I brought for him wouldn't start.  Then the key broke in the ignition.  Then my sled started leaking antifreeze on the trail at -10.  At one point it even sprayed through the hood (cowling) directly into my face which greatly amused my riding buddies.  Do you know antifreeze tastes sweet?

Now both sleds are in the shop and I have to cancel the ride I promised to Richard Whetsell tomorrow.  Maybe you should be very thankful, Richard!

I have always used older snowmachines.  I'm not a high marking rider who tries to zip up mountains without triggering an avalanche.  I stay away from steep slopes.  But the main reason I ride is that it gets me out of the house and into God's winter wonderland.  I love everything that the experience brings, even when things go awry.  Riding is not a solo sport.  People do it with other people. 

Living the life of a disciple of Jesus is not a solo endeavor.  We need the fellowship of the community of faith to be fully formed into the image of God.  There will be breakdowns and delays and detours as we head down the trail.  If we are able to let go of our destination modes of journeying through life we come to realize that the detours and delays are every much a part of our journey.

Grace Always,