A City Set on a Hill Cannot be Hidden

A little more than a week ago I returned from my first trip to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage with Bishop and Mrs. Trimble and thirty-four other participants from the Iowa Annual Conference UMC.   This past week I’ve been trying to absorb spiritual impact of this experience on my life and ministry.

When I agreed to go to Israel and Palestine I knew I would see locations which we read about, preach about, and talk about in church every day.  We sat in a boat on the sea of Galilee, many of us stood in the Jordan river as Bishop Trimble helped us remember our baptisms.  We walked the streets of Capernaum and gathered at the Garden of Gethsemane.  I knew that I would see those places.

But the spiritual impact of being in places where Jesus walked, taught, preached, and yes gave his life for us, was powerful!  I have been preaching the gospel of this Jesus whose steps we followed for more than 25 years.  That gospel felt as real, immanent and powerful as it ever has at any point in my life and ministry.

There were so many good things about being on the trip.  It was wonderful to be with colleague for a week and a half and get to know them better.  It was good to travel with Bishop and Mrs. Trimble and hear their insights and experiences about the Holy Land and about ministry.  It was great to travel with eight other friends from Grace United Methodist Church who I see weekly but got to have a wonderful shared experience with on this pilgrimage.

Along with the trip being powerful, moving, and spiritual it was also sobering and even in places a little painful.  It was tough to see the divisions that exist between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in a land that all three faiths call holy.  It was tough to see the wall around Bethlehem and know that people suffer because of the security measures involved all over the Holy Land no matter what you believe about the need for security in this very divided land.  It was tough to hear a faith leader tell us that religion has as often led to division as it has led to unity in a land filled with holy places and places of worship.

As we traveled I also learned a lot about the geography of the place Jesus called home.  I learned why you “go up to Jerusalem.”  I learned that so many of the cities Jesus saw as he preached and taught were set on the hills an valleys of the land around him.  So the words, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” gives new meaning as I saw much of Jerusalem and also Nazareth built on the hillsides.

I am going to be integrating and processing this experience for a long time and I know also that I’d like to return again some time in the future as the Lord wills.

While we were in the Holy Land our Bishop encourages us to pray for peace.  And so now on my continued prayer list are prayers of peace for the peace of Jerusalem, the peace of Israel, peace for the Palestinian people, peace among people of good will of all faiths in that land, and that all of us would be instruments of God’s peace wherever we are.

Milestones of God’s Grace

I started this blog almost three years ago to talk about God leading me to change the direction of my ministry and became a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  For those of you who have read my posts you probably have noticed that my posting has been much less frequent in recent months.  Well, life has just been both good and busy.  

I have been blessed these past nine months to serve in my new appointment at Grace UMC in Sioux City.  It has been a lot of fun getting to know the people of Grace, learning my way around Sioux City, and working in ministry with my new charge.  As the same time I have been continuing the process of working with the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church to complete my transfer of orders to the UMC and seek recognition as an Elder in Full Connection.  

Part of the requirements of receiving such a recommendation involved me completing courses in UMC history, doctrine, and polity.  I completed all of those classes in February of this year.  Also in February I had what will probably be my last meeting with an examining committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry.  And I am pleased to say that the BoOM has recommended me for full membership in the Iowa Conference!

This means that my name will come before the Clergy Session of the Conference in June for a vote.  If I receive an affirmative vote from those eligible to vote in the Clergy Session I will be an Elder in Full Connection in the UMC.  

For me this is a milestone in a lot of ways.  It is a milestone in completing the process with the BoOM.  In that process I felt very encouraged and affirmed while the examining committee members continued to ask good questions, seek understanding of my ministry and calling, and make decisions about my progress in the process.

It is also a milestone for me because, as I’ve shared many times now, I have felt for a long time that God wanted me to be a United Methodist serving God in a UM local churches.   I’ve shared here in this blog how I believe God nudged me and guided me over the years into a Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith which led me to seek out the UMC as my church home.

Each Christian tradition has its strengths.  But what has continued to attract me and continues to pull me into the UMC has been John Wesley’s teaching and understanding of Grace.  God’s gracious love, described by Wesley as Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying continues to capture my heart and my imagination.  What Wesley called the scripture way of salvation with its emphasis on the work of God’s grace in each of our lives throughout our lives colors and enriches everything that is best about United Methodists.  

I am also empowered and enriched by the sacramental theology of the UMC.  I was reminded again this Sunday in Communion how much my heart is warmed by the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving and in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup.  There is something so right and so heavenly to bend down on one knee so that a small child can take a piece of bread and dip it in the cup with a joyful smile on her face as she is told that the body of Christ was given for her!  There is such Holy Spirit power in the voices of the congregation declaring as one that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!”  Some Sundays I can only think to myself, “it just doesn’t get any better than this!”

Yes indeed, I am deeply honored that the clergy of the Iowa Conference will consider my credentials this June, and I am deeply blessed to be serving the Lord in the Iowa Annual Conference of the UMC and here in Sioux City at Grace Church.  I am very glad to be a United Methodist!

May each of you be blessed as we continued to celebrate the Risen Christ in these Great Fifty Days of the Easter Season.  “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!  Alleluia!”

Itinerancy and United Methodist Ministry

It has now been more than two years since I began the process transferring my ministry to the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church.  This past year my ordination was recognized and I was commissioned as a Provisional Member of the Conference.

As I have been working towards the day when I hope to be an “Elder in full connection” in the Conference I have been both studying United Methodism and also living out the life of a new United Methodist pastor serving in my first appointment in the UMC.  It has been an exciting two years serving at First UMC in Cedar Falls.   I have had a great time helping the church in Transformation worship, preaching in both contemporary and traditional worship settings, and working with a great Senior Pastor and staff at the church.  It has been a blessed two years!

Early on in the process with the Board of Ordained Ministry and the PARC Committee I was asked if I understood that United Methodist pastors are itinerant.  Itinerancy is the means by which United Methodists deploy their pastors to meet the needs of the entire Church by placing pastors where their gifts and graces can best be used.  The committee needed to know that I both understood the itinerant nature of Methodist ministry and that I supported and was committed to being an itinerant Elder in the UMC.   I indicated that I did understand and was fully ready and willing to commit my ministry and my life to going where the Bishop and the Cabinet decide to send me.

Well now the first opportunity has come for me to act on that understanding and that promise.  Today it was publicly announced that Bishop Trimble has appointed me to be the next Senior Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Sioux City, Iowa.  My appointment will begin around July 1st.  During the coming weeks I will be ending my ministry with the fine people at Cedar Falls First UMC and doing what I can to help pass the ministry on to whomever the Bishop appoints to succeed me.  My wife and I will be packing and getting ready for a move to the Sioux City metro area some time near the end of June.  And then we will begin another exciting chapter of ministry with our United Methodist family at Grace UMC.

In my ministry I have pastored a number of churches.  It is always hard to say goodbye to people you’ve come to love and care about.  This time it will be hard because I will be saying goodbye to my first UMC church family and they have been a blessing to me!

At the same time I am very excited as my family and I look forward to new ministry.  I am excited for the opportunity to get to know the people of Grace UMC and serve the Lord with them!  I look forward to new ministry opportunities with another great UMC church.  I’m looking forward to getting to know the community around Grace UMC, which includes the Morningside neighborhood, and Morningside College.

In God’s ministry it is always good to be ready for the next adventure that God is sending you on.  And like the itinerant Methodist preachers who traveled on horseback to share the gospel of Jesus with a needy world, it is best to travel light.

Why United Methodist? – Part 4 – Connectionalism

Connectionalism.  What is connectionalism?  Well simply put it means that it is the United Methodist Church and not the United Methodist Churches.  United Methodists are part of one cohesive faith family.  Each local church is part of an Annual Conference of  Churches which is part of the national body of United Methodists.  Each church contributes to the life of the church in mission and ministry and also through the system of apportionments where each church gives its fair share to the work of the denomination.  Everyone contributes to the life of the church so that the sum of the parts is indeed greater than the whole!

Another important part of the connectional system is the itinerancy.  United Methodist Clergy are part of an appointment system.  The Bishop of the Annual Conference with the aid of her/his cabinet assign pastors to their places of services.   This allows the placing people where they are best gifted to serve in places where their gifts are most needed.  Yes, this means that women and men who agree to serve in the United Methodist Church agree to accept appointment without reserve and go where the Bishop sends them in ministry.  But with that appointment comes the guidance and support of the denomination through the office of the Bishop and District Superintendents.

Because of this connected family of faith church and pastors are not alone without aid support from denominational leaders that have both the responsibility and the authority from the church to lead the church and give it direction.

Rather than sink or swim on their own, United Methodist local churches work together through districts and conferences to support each other and the entire United Methodist family.

I’m sure I could write several more posts about the many reasons I’ve chosen to seek to transfer my credentials to the United Methodist Church.  This is just a beginning.  But it is a good start.  So I’ll move on to some additional topics of interest.