UMM Retreat

Last night I travelled from my home town to Leesburg, FL for the United Methodist Men’s retreat.  I have never attended one before, but travelled with excitement and anticipation about what i might see the Lord do in these men this weekend.  We all arrived on time and made it through dinner and into the first main session together.

It was a disaster.

The sound system was not being operated well and therefore microphones, instruments, etc were not bring sound through; powerpoint slides were not there with words of songs on.  The announcements lasted as long as the sermon.  The sermon was in fact the only redeeming event in an otherwise disappointing evening  It was embarrassing and represented a retreat that has been pulled together with little preparation and very little attention to the importance of putting on something with excellence when you are asking people to pay for it.  I was literally embarrassed that I had brought men from my church here and I was saddened at what they must have been thinking.  I shared some of it with my roommate who said he understood my complaints given that I am a planner and organizer myself.  He himself enjoyed it and felt God’s presence in and through it.

Then in Ephesians this morning, I read that I am to let only affirming and encouraging words of love come out of my mouth.  Put away division and anger, the writer commands.  When I read that, I was left feeling a sense of guilt about the things I have said about this conference so far.  Instead of complaining about it – I must enter into it and allow God to be at work through it.  The truth is that, so far, it is not my cup of tea.  However, that does not mean that God’s grace cannot come through it and meet with any of us in this place at any time and in any way.

So my response must change.  As I pray today that God would continue to make me holy and show my what it means to be set apart for him in my life, today my choice needs to be to enter in and expect the Lord to move in the lives of these men.  Come Holy Spirit and work in them all and work in me.

The Lord moves in mysterious ways.  He chose a terribly planned and thrown together session last night to reveal to me the work that needs to take place in my own heart.  Come, Lord, and do your work in me and in everyone else for whom you have plans this weekend.

Marcy Fellowship 2014 @ Candler

I spent last week at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA, where I was privileged to become one of the 2014 Marcy Fellows.  The week involved an intense set of classes and cultural experiences based around developing the skills and thoughts of myself and the 5 other preachers gathered there.  Everything we did was based around Mark 1 as a text and the outcome of all the learning and experiences and discussions was work towards a sermon based on a passage from that text.  There were a number of highlights for me personally:

1. The company.  As I mentioned I got to sit with 5 other FLUMC pastors throughout this experience and there were a couple of reasons as to why this was so good.  First of, they were just good people who were each committed to Christ and the ministry Christ has called them to.  They were friendly, intellectually challenging in loving ways and were also each marked with a wonderful humility in the context of our learning.  I would imagine this humility extends beyond the classroom and dinner table too.  The second reason that sitting with these five folks was so good was that I finally made some new friends in the Conference.  If I am honest, while I have loved the last year so much, I have felt lonely in the context of my ministry in the Conference.  At Annual Conference gathering in June, I felt very alone and almost intimidated by not knowing anyone aside of old friends and the few others from the local UMC’s in my area.  To have five folks with whom I now have friendship and shared learning experiences was the unexpected and invaluable gift of the Marcy Fellowship to my life and ministry.

2. The conversation on baptism which took place on Tuesday morning.  To be honest we spent the whole week talking about baptism in the context of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1. But on Tuesday we started to extend that conversation into the role of the sacrament in our lives, and the understanding of baptism that we and other Christians hold to.  I was left with a question about baptism in the life of the church and the individual:  Is baptism a momentary experience which is by and large forgotten after the event (by both church and individual) or is our baptism the significant moment in our lives which marks our hearts with the Spirit and declares our belonging to Jesus, and also becomes the context for the outworking of God’s story of grace in our lives? Does everything relate to our baptismal identity?

Through Marcy and the conversations we had, I got to engage with the declaration over Jesus at the moment of his baptism when he hears the Spirit say: “This is my Son.  With Him I am well pleased.” These words became so powerful for me when i began to see them in the context of the next two little stories that Mark includes – those of Jesus’ wilderness experience and the beginning of his preaching ministry.  I began to see that both the wilderness and the call to preach were lived out in the context of those words whispered in the moment of baptism.  This fresh insight only served to confirm that it is only the love of God deep in our souls which can offer the strength to both endure the wilderness and live out the call on our lives.  It was Christ’s experience of the Father’s love and affirmation in his baptism which, according to Mark, was the context for everything else which followed.  Mark does not point to any birth stories or genealogy.  From the beginning of his account, his only role is to point to Jesus as the Messiah that John and the Prophets before him preached about.  And in doing that, he announces Jesus as the one who is affirmed and who finds his own beginning, middle and end firmly in the context of his baptismal experience.

I think this is powerful.

It also makes me worry somewhat at how we in the church have managed to cheapen baptism to a momentary experience which is all too soon forgotten in our lives as we forget our baptismal identity.  It has become either just a symbol of our testimony of new life after conversion, or it has become something that we do to children whereby we announce God’s grace and claim on their lives in a ceremonial moment, before quickly reclaiming them for ourselves and going our own way.  Both of these attitudes towards baptism (and they are assumed by me based on experience, not empirically proven by research) reveal an alarming lack of understanding which itself points to an alarming underplaying of the role and value of catachesis in the life of the believer.  Early church practice was to ‘school’ the catachumenate for up to three years in the ways and understanding of the faith before allowing them to enter sacramental fellowship through baptism and receiving of Holy Communion.  I do not think I am suggesting that this is the way forward – but I think that the loss of baptismal identity as the marker of our life context does warrant some attention in this area.  Solid catachesis does not answer all the problems of the reality of life.  But, surely if we believe and enact that sacraments are important pillars of our theological understanding and our tradition, it should follow that families and individuals be made more fully aware of the covenant they are entering into as they go through the waters of baptism?

3. The resulting sermon.  I wrote a sermon which came directly out of the conversations and experiences and learning we had at Marcy.  I delivered it to the group on Friday morning and got some great feedback.  I will blog a little more when I get the opportunity to preach said sermon in our church context in a few weeks. But right now I am happy with it apart from a few tweaks that are needed here and there.

Overall, the week was excellent – food, fellowship and solid learning are always a good mix.  I would do it again in a heart beat but this is a one off experience for my ministry.  The other thing, in closing, is that i was reminded how much I love to study and learn in that environment.  It scratched the itch of my inner nerd.  I do not know what will come of this – but I do want to look at possibilities for further study towards either a PhD or a DMin.  Who knows what will come of that – but the desire has been awakened a little more as a result of last week.

Marcy Preaching Fellowship 2014

I write this from my hotel room in Atlanta.  I flew up here to day to attend the Marcy Preaching Fellowship.  MPF is a week long preaching school for ordained clergy from the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.  It is open to 6 pastors each year and a scholarship is made available for all participants.  I had initially applied for this course back in march and was turned down.  It would appear that they kept me as reserve though and a place opened up for me, quite unexpectedly.

So here I am.

I preached this morning, presided at Holy Communion and now here I am, ready to start this thing in the morning.  I will likely get to reflect a little more as the week progresses.  But right now I am happy with the group that has arrived to complete this journey with me. I am nervous to because we have each been asked to upload a sermon on to DVD for presentation to the group tomorrow.  I have watched mine a couple of times and it is not to bad – for me.  I can hear myself and my accent and I can recognize my little preaching idiosyncrasies.  I am sure they will be pointed out to me as the week goes on!

Right now though, it is time for a night’s rest and to get up and get going in the morning.

I am interested to see what the week holds and I pray that it is a formative time for us all who have made the journey to get here.