Local Church Conversation about #gc2019

Yesterday afternoon, we had an all-church conversation at Berryton United Methodist Church to process the 2019 special session of the General Conference. I put it on the calendar about a month ago. While it was, of course, impossible to predict how things would go, I did figure that we would need some time and space to process whatever it was that was passed. This was true.

The weather was bitterly cold and it was snowing for the first part of the morning with about 3 inches accumulated before the first worship service ended. It was the second lowest in-person worship attendance in the last two years. In spite of the conditions, we had a great turnout on Sunday afternoon to talk about General Conference.

I shared these documents with those that were gathered:

The first document was a statement that I shared in worship and the second was shared at the meeting in the afternoon. Both were adapted from resources provided by the Great Plains Annual Conference.

I am glad that people gathered and were willing to share their pain, questions, confusion, and hope. It felt inadequate. There needs to be and will continue to be more conversations in local congregations just like ours across the United States and around the world. People are moved to take action.

100 Conversations in 100 Days

Today is my 32nd day as the preacher assigned to Berryton United Methodist Church. It has been a wonderful journey of learning, sharing, and welcome. I am so grateful for the warm welcome that we have received from the congregation and community. One of the ways that I have been learning about the congregation is something that I am calling 100 Conversations in 100 Days.

I hope to share a one-on-one conversation with 100 people so that I can hear their thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the church and community. My hope is to get this accomplished in my first 100 days, which gives me until October 8. As of today, I have four down and ninety-six to go. If you live in the Berryton area, would you be willing to share a conversation with me about the church? Visit www.calendly.com/AndrewConard and click on “100 Conversations” to set up a time to meet.

I have been updating and adapting questions from Eleven Questions for Getting to Know a New Congregation. Here is the original list:

  • Tell me about a time when you felt especially proud of some members or leaders of your congregation, when you felt they were really following Christ. What makes this incident stand out in your mind?
  • Whom do you especially respect as leaders? Why do you hold them in high regard?
  • Tell me why you’re glad you are a member of this congregation. Why did you join this congregation instead of another one?
  • How has being part of this congregation helped you and members of your family grow in faith? Please give me some examples of experiences or classes that made a difference. How did you change?
  • Tell me a story about when congregation members resolved a conflict or difference effectively. What do you think the congregation learned from this experience? How effectively do leaders and members handle differences now?
  • What have you especially valued about your pastors and other congregational staff? (Be specific.) Do any sermons, initiatives, or attributes of your previous pastors come to mind?
  • Tell me about a time when you were disappointed with members or leaders. What happened?
  • Complete this sentence: “God is calling this congregation to be …”
  • What do you think God wants your congregation to emphasize in the next three to five years?
  • What else do I need to know in order to thrive in this congregation and community?
  • Do you have any other concerns or suggestions?

What strategies or techniques have you used to learn about the congregation and community in a new appointment?

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.

Reading John Wesley’s Sermons in Community on Twitter

In response to one of the questions from the #dreamUMC conversation on Twitter, I shared this update.

My Twitter friend and fellow UMCer Matt Lipan (@mattlipan and check out his blog here.) responded.

There was a good deal of interest from this conversation. Matt and I followed up with an email conversation to put together a framework.

What is the plan?

  • We will host a Twitter chat each Monday night at 8:30pm cst/9:30pm est starting on June 4th.
  • We will use the hashtag #jwchat for our Twitter conversations.
  • We will read and discuss Wesley’s first 8 sermons over an 8 week period, reading & discussing one sermon a week. You can find these sermons online here and here.
  • Here is our reading schedule:
    • Salvation by Faith (6/4)
    • The Almost Christian (6/11)
    • Awake, Thou That Sleepest (6/18)
    • Scriptural Christianity (6/25)
    • Justification by Faith (7/2)
    • The Righteousness of Faith (7/9)
    • The Way to the Kingdom (7/16)
    • The First Fruits of the Spirit (7/23)
How do I participate?
  • Read the sermon for the week in advance.
  • We will use these 3 questions to guide our discussions each Monday:
    • If you were to preach this sermon in 140 characters, what would it be?
    • How did you hear God speaking to you through this sermon?
    • What did you discover that is most relevant to your community?

Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, or plan to join us.

2010 #kswumc – Zimbabwe Partnership

Yesterday I focused a lot of my energy around the covenant between the Kansas West and Zimbabwe East Annual Conferences. It was my responsibility to pull together the team that shared stories of the trip and presented the legislation. While not speaking, I probably got more anxious than was strictly necessary trying to corral the effort. It went great. Wonderful stories and testimonies shared, excellent video production, good discussion from the floor and in the end a unanimous approval. Following the presentation was the Taste of Zimbabwe dinner. I cooked up some of the vegetables over lunch break during conference and served sadza and rice during the meal. Bishop Nhiwatiwa spoke just the right amount and was encouraging, insightful and funny. I have found his words meaningful every time that he has addressed a group of which I have been a part.

A few other highlights from yesterday:

  • Starting off the day with a presentation of Godspell
  • Responding to Wesley’s historic questions in front of the annual conference along with the others to be ordained tonight.
  • Hearing the stories of the retirees in their own words at the retirement service last night. Especially, my Aunt Karen Osterman Fieser as she retired from over 25 years as a chaplain at Wesley Medical Center.
  • Meaningful conversations with various colleagues throughout the day.

It is good to be here.

Reflections on the Cross

A few weeks ago, we were invited in staff chapel to reflect on the cross with a small group of fellow staff. I enjoy being in conversation with those with whom I work about theology. I don’t always take the time that I need in reflection with my colleagues, so I was particularly blessed by their responses.

  • The cross as the first verse of a song about hope.
  • The cross as a catalyst.
  • The cross as a mystery. Understanding it less doesn’t lessen my commitment