Reflection on My Time at First UMC El Dorado

Last Sunday there was a farewell event for our family after the 11 a.m. worship service. It was a wonderful time – heartfelt thanks, earnest wishes, and blessings were shared from one to the other. I shared a few things to those that were there and share them with you here.

Thumbnail Sketch

If I were to give a thumbnail sketch of my time as the preacher at First UMC El Dorado, this is what it would be:

As the preacher at First UMC El Dorado, I led the congregation to design and execute a multi-year strategic plan which resulted in the development of a discipleship pathway to more deeply engage people in the life of faith, a capital campaign for 1.75 times our annual operating budget to renovate of our 1920s era sanctuary, and increased our organizational health through volunteer and staff development.

Clearly this is written in the most positive light, yet I believe it captures some of the most significant highlights of ministry over the last six years.

Three Memorable Days as Pastor

Sunday, August 12, 2012

We had just arrived to town and our daughter, Anne, was a few months old. It was time for her baptism. My father, Mark Conard, baptized her during worship. Baptism is a significant moment in the life of a family and this was particularly meaningful because my father was able to officiate. I remember watching him walk her down the aisle to show the congregation and the love and care in his voice as offered God’s grace in the act of baptism. It was a meaningful day in the life of our family.

Final Week of October 2016

My father died on October 18, 2016. As we were with family during the days that followed, someone from the Staff Parish team asked what would be helpful for us. I sometimes struggle with asking for things, though in this case I managed to say that basics around the house would be helpful for us – mowing the lawn and cleaning a bit inside our house. I remember pulling back into El Dorado after my dad’s service of death and resurrection and graveside service – the lawn looked great. When we walked inside our home was fresh and clean. The care and love that these simple acts demonstrated was overwhelming.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Near the end of the school year, I received an email from one of the staff at Skelly Elementary School that they had something for me in the office. So, when I picked up my son, John, from Kindergarten I went into the office and was greeted with boxes filled with May Baskets! We had launched our partnership with the school at the beginning of the year. This was an amazing gift and a symbol that the partnership between our congregation and the school was taking shape. There was both mutual interest and effort to be a blessing to one another.

Three Things I received during Pastorate

Space to Become a Preacher

When I arrived, I had preached less than ten times in my entire life. The practice of weekly preaching was foreign and intimidating. This congregations has provided the opportunity to learn how to be a preacher. There are some moments in preaching where my internal monologue is wondering “What am I saying?” as I continue to preach and I have taken away 15 minutes you can’t get back in your life. Other Sundays, hopefully more, I have felt used by God to share a word of encouragement, conviction, and vision. I am grateful for space to become a preacher.

Grace Offered in My Leadership

While I like to think otherwise, I know that not every idea that I have had in ministry has been great. There have been days that I have fallen down on the job as your pastor. Throughout my time here, the overarching response to my ministry has been a willingness to follow and discover together where God is leading us. I have learned what it means to be a pastoral leader in this place. I am grateful for grace offered in my leadership.

Gray Hair

I still remember when my hairdresser noted so gracefully, “It looks like your hair is losing some of it’s color. Do you want to do anything to address that?” I said, “No.” So, here I am at the end of my time here with much less color in my hair than I had six years ago.

Preparation for a Service of the Baptismal Covenant

A Conversation about the Meaning, Symbolism and Responsibility of Baptism

One of the great privileges that I have as a United Methodist preacher is offering the sacrament of Christian baptism to individuals and families connected with the local church. I like to meet with the individual or family in advance of the service to hear their story and to share some of the meaning, significance and logistics of the service.

Meaning of Baptism

  • Baptism is a sacrament, which is is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. This means that there is a physical action or elements that represent God’s work in our lives. In the United Methodist Church, there are two sacraments — baptism and Holy Communion. In Holy Communion, the other sacrament in the United Methodist Church, the bread and the cup represent the body and blood of Christ and entering into a new covenant.
  • Baptism is rooted in the Bible. We see a connection in the Old Testament ritual of cleansing and renewal. The Jewish people would undergo a ritual cleansing before participating in religious ceremonies. In the New Testament, we read about Jesus himself coming to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan river.
  • Baptism is a sign of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Throughout scripture we read stories of God making covenants, or promises with individuals and communities — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the people of Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus offers an invitation to a new covenant at the last supper. Baptism makes this real.
  • Baptism is initiation into the body of Christ. Baptism is not particular to a local congregation or denomination. You become a part of the universal church across all time and space.
  • Baptism is a signal that God’s forgiveness that is always and repeatedly available to us when we repent of our sins. For adults who are baptized, it can be a sign that all the ways that one has strayed from God’s path in the path have been forgiven. When an infant is being baptized, it can be difficult to consider that there are things which the child has said or done that are contrary to God’s dream for people. However, sin is not jus thte things that we hav done wrong, it is also the state in which we exist — it is part of our human condition.
  • Baptism is beginning of a lifetime journey of holiness. No matter the age of the person being baptized, it is not the end of a journey of faith — it is just the beginning. It is a significant milestone in our lifetime journey grow toward perfect love of God and neighbor.
  • Baptism is a commission of ministry. We are commissioned to serve God in all areas of our life, not just when we are in a particular place or around particular people.

Symbolism in the Act of Baptism

Water is the central symbol of baptism. We experience water in a variety of ways in our lives and these can give us insight into what is happening in baptism.

  • Just as there are waters at our physical birth, the water of baptism is symbolic of a spiritual new birth.
  • In the Bible, we read of the spirit of God moving across the waters and bringing order out of chaos at the very beginning of time. In a similar way, the waters of baptism can bring order out of the chaos of our lives.
  • We use water to wash and cleanse our physical bodies and the water of baptism is symbolic of our sin being washed away.

After the use of water, laying on of hands and anointing with oil symbolize the work of the Holy Spirit. We read in the Old Testament of indiviudals and holy items being anointed with oil as a sign of being set aside for God and God’s purposes.

Responsibility of Baptism

  • In addition to the meaning and symbolism of baptism, there is responsibility. Parents or guardians who are bringing a child to be baptized have the responsibility to raise the child in the faith and model for them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ who seeks to worship, grow, give, serve and share. Part of their role is to encourage the child to, one day, claim faith for themselves.
  • Godparents, should the family chose to name them, are also taking responsibility to help raise the child in the faith and encourage them to claim faith for themselves.
  • Adults who come to be baptized have the responsibility to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ as they worship, grow, give, serve and share and seek to move toward perfect love of God and neighbor.
  • Baptism is a community event and the congregation is responsible for be active in the life of the individual and family and help her or him grow in faith. Those that have made a commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, recommit themselves to living a faithful life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much water should be used?
    • United Methodists practice sprinkling, pouring and full immersion. The water is a symbol of God’s action and the amount does not matter. Consider rings which are often exchanged as a symbol of marriage vows — a more expensive ring does not make someone “more married.” In a similar way, more water does not make someone “more baptized.”
  • Why are infants baptized?
    • As United Methodists, we believe that God is at work in our lives before we are able to recognize it. Faith is professed by the parents or guardians and promises are made to raise the child in the faith.
  • Do I need to be re-baptized?
    • No. As United Methodists, we believe that baptism is primarily God’s action. We do not practice re-baptism as we believe that God was at work in one’s baptism — no matter the age or circumstances. However, there are times in life when it is appropriate to remember your baptism or recommit yourself to living life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We can create a symbolic moments in worship for these times of life that are not being baptized again.
  • Does baptism make me a member of the church?
    • Yes. In baptism, you become part of the universal church of Jesus Christ across all time and space. Adults become a Professing Member and Children a Baptized Member of the local United Methodist Church.
  • When do children claim faith for themselves?
    • There is a variety of opinions of the “age of assent” for a child to claim faith for themselves. As a church, we offer the opportunity for persons in 8th to 12th grade to an intentional time of examining their faith and the opporutnity to confirm the promises that were made on their behalf at their baptism. At confirmation, one transitions from a Baptized Member to a Professing Member of the United Methodist Church.

Conclusion

Baptism is meaningful, significant and exciting time in the life of an individual, family and local congregation. It is an honor to be part of this milestone on the journey of faith.

Scripture Monday – Psalm 63:1

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1, NIV).

I love the vivid description of seeking God. Thirst is powerful in a land where there is no water. I aspire to seek God in this way, but I know that it is not true for me all the time.

This weekend I had the chance to witness the baptism of my niece, Jenna. Also, my brother asked if I would be a godparent, which I am honored to be. It was a great blessing to share in the day. The waters of baptism are a sign of God’s grace and quenching of our thirst for God.

Is Communion for Christians Only?

A few weeks ago, I visited a church where this sign was displayed during communion. The method of serving was passing a tray through the aisle and taking a piece of bread and a small cup of juice, so it would not have been obvious if one chose not to partake.

United Methodists practice open communion, which to clarify, means that you do not have to be a member of the church where communion is being served or a member of any United Methodist Church to receive the sacrament.

This is different than saying that you have to be a Christian to receive, which is clearly what the church that I visited was indicating.

The official document on baptism for The United Methodist Church, By Water & The Spirit, indicates:

In celebrating the Eucharist, we remember the grace given to us in our baptism and partake of the spiritual food necessary for sustaining and fulfilling the promises of salvation. Because the table at which we gather belongs to the Lord, it should be open to all who respond to Christ’s love, regardless of age or church membership. The Wesleyan tradition has always recognized that Holy Communion may be an occasion for the reception of converting, justifying, and sanctifying grace. Unbaptized persons who receive communion should be counseled and nurtured toward baptism as soon as possible.

That last sentence is particularly tricky in practice. Do you ask people if they have been baptized before, during or after they receive the bread and the cup? Perhaps a message of this sort in a United Methodist Church would say:

If Jesus is lord of your life, please take communion. If he is not lord of your life, go ahead and take communion anyway, as you might experience a desire to make him the lord of your life, in which case we would like for you to be baptized if you haven’t already been baptized.

This is a little tongue in cheek, however I do wonder – How does your church communicate about who receives Holy Communion?

Click in Remembrance of Me

Click in Remembrance of Me is the title of an article that was published in Newsweek on November 3. I invite you to check it out as it provides my first exposure to online church or internet campus being addressed by what I would interpret to be a mainstream media outlet.

While having previously found a United Methodist who was willing to baptize via the internet, this was the first reference that I have seen to a United Methodist willing to give communion via the internet. The site which is referenced in the article, holycommunionontheweb.com, appears to have been taken down.

Another perspective to throw in the mix as we continue to think about an internet campus at Resurrection.

Open Source Liturgy Project – Day 3

This morning we are finding out more about the expectations for what is to come next. Each person here will be gathering a group to write liturgies in each of the following areas:

  • Holy Communion
  • Baptism
  • Death and Resurrection
  • Christian Marriage

Here is a presentation on Understanding the Open Source Cores for the Open Source Liturgy Project of the General Board of Discipleship. This was put together by the staff at GBOD and I uploaded it to Google Docs as we were given a CD with resources to use and share. Check it out:

http://docs.google.com/Presentation?id=d3ggnsj_306dxf4mbc7

Let me know what you think.

Open Source Liturgy Project – Day 2

We have started Day 2 of the Open Source Liturgy Project and I am looking forward to learning more about the technical platform and what is going to be next after being here. You can check out a little bit of the technical platform at http://wikigbod.org/wiki/tiki-index.php We are spending some time this morning discussing the baptism core.

Do you enjoy writing liturgy? Would you like to be a part of a development team that would write liturgy for particular contexts in Kansas? This might be rural, urban, mid-size, etc. I will be gathering a team for a retreat in the fall of 2009 to work on writing liturgy tailored to our context in Kansas. If you are interested in being a part of this project, please send me an email at andrew (dot) conard (at) cor (dot) org with “Open Source Liturgy” in the subject line.

I am excited about the potential for this project in being a part of renewal of the church and helping to bring revival to the state.