Writing a Prayer of Confession

It is not often that I confess in writing. Most often, I confess verbally.

There is something different about putting your sins down on paper. Seeing the words on the page makes them more tangible and seem more ugly. The sheet of paper is filled up with things of which I am not proud in my life. Yet, it is also cleansing. There is something powerful in naming the places where I have messed up and am in need of God’s grace.

I have written a prayer of confession on Ash Wednesday for thirteen years. Sometimes, it seems, that I find myself writing some of the same things from year to year. All too often, I seem to cling unintentionally to some of the thoughts, words, and actions which separate me from God and other people. There are areas where God has been at work to help me make progress and there are new areas which I have not found necessary to confess in years past. All of this is part of the journey of going on toward perfect love of God and neighbor.

Each of the years that I have written my prayers in this way, I have also had the opportunity to place them in a fire to be burned. This is a cleansing ritual and helps me begin the journey toward Easter. I am so glad to be on this journey again.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Repent and believe the gospel.

National Congregations Study Participation

Early this week, I received a letter informing me that Berryton UMC was a participant int he 3rd wave of the National Congregations Study (NCS) and that I was “one of a small number of religious leaders from across the U.S. chosen randomly to again represent [my] religious community in the 4th wave of the NCS.”

The National Congregations Study (NCS) is an ongoing national survey effort to gather information about the basic characteristics of America’s congregations. It is an effort of the University of Chicago and Duke University.

This is pretty great! I have looked at the key findings of the previous waves of NCS research and have appreciated the research. I participated in the phone interview this week and it was fun to be part of the ongoing research on religious congregations in the United States.

I was asked a number of questions about Berryton United Methodist Church, including around the history of the congregation, staffing, worship services, groups and activities, financials, and my background. I am looking forward to seeing the results of the work when they are published and glad to have been part of the process.

You can find out more about the National Congregations Study here.

 

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.

Grace in the Details

United Methodist Elders are ordained to Word, Order, Sacrament, and Service. It seems that during times of transition Order is one that takes precedence. In both leaving and beginning, there are a almost innumerable number of administrative items that need to be cared for, passed on to others, or at least communicated in some way.

For example, upcoming weddings… There are two on the calendar for the fall in 2018 at First UMC El Dorado at which Rev. Mik King will officiate and one on the calendar for me at Berryton UMC at which I will officiate. These are an incredibly important day in the life of the couple and their families and they are ones for which the pastor has a great deal of responsibility to go well. So, contact information for the couple, helping make the transition – these details are important and need attention. When I arrived in El Dorado in 2012 I had a wedding scheduled in July. I am grateful that in each of these three cases they are later in the year.

There are also details that have to be attended to nearly immediately. July 1 is the first day of the appointive year and this year it also happens to be a Sunday. Worship happens every Sunday and each congregation has a variety of practices around how it is planned and executed, as well as a number of different associated items that need to be prepared in some way. These are important details that need to be attended to right away.

It is impossible to put together a comprehensive list – Where are the light switches? What happens on Christmas Eve? Who decorates the altar? Who purchases candles? Any number of things…

My personality is such that I try to attend every detail, as best as I am able. At times this is helpful and at others paralyzing. During these weeks, I am working on offering myself and others grace in the details.

Where have you found grace in the details? Either offered or received?

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.

A Response to the Charleston Church Shootings

Over the past few days, I have continued in prayer for Charleston. I want to share a portion of my response to the Charleston Church Shootings which I preached this morning at First United Methodist Church. I believe it is important and inadequate. You can find the entire sermon and manuscript online here.


Let me be clear:
God never intends us to choose evil.
The Charleston Church Shootings were not part of God’s plan.
Racism, murder and tragedy will never be God’s will.
Evil is never, ever God’s plan.

Each one of us has choices to make every day.
We choose between good and evil.
We choose between forgiveness and resentment.
We choose between light and darkness.
The choices that we make – both big and small lead us closer to God or further away from God.

Choose good.
Choose forgiveness.
Choose light and life.
Choose to follow Jesus Christ, Emmanuel – God is with us.

Director of Worship Arts – Welcome Sarah Newberry!

I am excited to share the news that we have hired Sarah Newberry to be the Director of Worship Arts at Resurrection West. Next week, I am hoping to share a bit more of the process with you. Until then, I wanted to pass along the update that Pastor Molly shared the news via email to the congregation:

“We welcome Sarah Newberry to our team beginning March 1, and we will have the opportunity to introduce her in worship on February 26.

Sarah comes from within the Resurrection community, she has been leading in the Vibe worship service at the Leawood Campus for the past year and a half, and she takes on this position as part of answering her call to full-time ministry.  Trained as a Music Therapist, Sarah comes to us from The Good Samaritan Society-Olathe, a senior living and care organization, where she has been employed as their Activity Director, Volunteer Coordinator, and Music Therapist.  In her job, she has worn many hats: music therapy, staff supervisor to a department, led and planned worship services in their facility, started new initiatives and programs to care for the community she serves, and coordinated volunteer teams for the community.  Sarah is a pianist, vocalist, and percussionist primarily, but she can play and teach pretty much every other instrument.  In addition to her Bachelor of Music degree in music therapy, she also studied music education, choral conducting, and vocal performance at Florida State University.  Sarah is personable, she has a great sense of humor, a humble heart, and she has a deep passion for leading people in worship of our God.  Oh, and she started a 5th grade praise band in KiDS COR at Leawood!

And because I won’t have time to tell you everything when I introduce Sarah in worship, I have to share with you one little story. A few weeks ago, we had a day in which we had four highly-qualified candidates in for a final interview and audition.  When Sarah sat down at the piano and started playing “You Are My King” (amazing love, how can it be, that you my king would die for me…), I was immediately drawn into worship.  Honestly, I didn’t expect that.  I went into our auditions prepared to listen, to critique, to observe their performances.  I wasn’t at all thinking about putting myself in a place to engage in worship through singing.  In an instant, I knew what it was that several other staff members and ministry leaders had gone out of their way to tell me.  There was something in Sarah’s voice, in the way she delivered the words, that made space for me to meet God.  All of the details of the task at hand were gone for a few moments.  That doesn’t happen to me very often.  I usually have to fight to set my duties aside–to stop evaluating or making mental notes of how to do things differently or what is supposed to come next.  I don’t even know that I can describe it that well–other than to tell you that I found the Holy Spirit in the notes through her voice.

For those of you that have joined us in the last few months, we have been conducting this search process since November.  In the past three months, we had more than 65 applicants.  We conducted phone screens, a couple of rounds of in-person interviews, and a final interview/audition.  We were blessed to have a great response and to have interacted with some really gifted leaders.  In the meantime, our volunteer worship teams have been doing an amazing job in leading worship each weekend at our three services.  I am so thankful for their hard work, and I’m excited to see where the next months in our worship ministry will lead us!