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Do you have a Bible of your own?

Do you have a Bible of your own? Do you remember your first Bible? The first Bible I remember being able to call my own was a big, navy blue “Young Reader Bible” that the church I grew up in gave to third graders every year. To be honest, I don’t have many memories of reading that Bible, but it was a meaningful gift given to me by my church family. It was my church’s way of saying to us children, “This book is part of who we are. We want you to have one for yourself. We want you to learn to love this book.” The first Bible I remember actually picking up and reading was a brown, faux-leather NIV Bible that my parents gave me in high school. My father suggested I start by reading the Gospel of Matthew, which I did. It went with me to Bible studies on Wednesday nights with other youth. And it went with me to college, where it got opened for a few Bible studies but then stayed closed for a while.

I still have both of these Bibles. They are in my office at the church. Believe it or not, I’m looking at the big blue one right now as I type this article. It sits, along with an old hymnal and a paperback Bible, underneath my desktop computer screen. It’s a daily reminder of the hope my church had for me that I would grow to love this book. The NIV Bible is on a table in my office, and sometimes when I see it, I remember how God was with me in my adolescence and early adulthood, even when I was not paying attention. On a shelf above my office computer is the red New Oxford Annotated NRSV Bible that my seminary professors recommended I have for classes. There are lots of underlined phrases and notes written in the margins, because it was in seminary that I finally got the courage to mark my own thoughts and questions onto the page. This Bible’s edges are frayed from all the reading and studying and wrestling I did in seminary. I look at it and remember how the scriptures came alive for me in those years of study.

Today, there are three or four different Bibles that I use regularly. One sits in my desk drawer at work. I take it to Bible studies here at the church. One rests on a washstand beside the bed. Another sits on a table by my chair in the living room. I use them all in different ways and at different times, and I like having a variety of Bibles around, with different commentaries, maps, study guides and translations. Each one has something special to offer. Funny. I could probably tell my faith story by lining up all of my old Bibles: the one from childhood that I didn’t actually read. The one from adolescence that I dipped into and explored a bit before setting it aside. The one I engaged with both academically and emotionally. The ones that I turn to today for study, for preaching and for prayer. My relationship with this holy book has changed and grown and broadened over the years and over the pages. Sometimes the relationship is simple; other times it’s very complicated. And always there is more to explore and learn.

What about you? Do you have a Bible to call your own? Do you remember your first Bible? How has your relationship with this book grown and changed over time? As we enter this year-through-the-Bible together, may our love for this book continue to grow as we seek to hear God’s story speaking onto our own story, no matter our stage of life.

 

Camp Meeting

If you’ve been a member of this congregation for more than a year, then you have heard me talk about my annual family camp meeting. (If you’ve heard more than you want to know about it, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.) Every year, six hundred or so descendants of the Reverend Howell Taylor gather at Tabernacle Campground in Brownsville, TN, for a week of revival, eating and visiting. It is an old Methodist camp meeting that started in 1826 and is still going strong.

We go to church twice a day, and each year we have a guest preacher who preaches thirteen times over the course of the week. This year, we had two preachers: Dr. Ellsworth Kalas and his son, Rev. David Kalas. Dr. Kalas, who is now 91, has come to preach at camp meeting every three or four years since 1964, and we were able to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his “honorary cousinhood.” Hearing him preach over all these years has dramatically shaped my faith and my own preaching. Honestly, I think he may be a saint.

One of the things that both Dr. Kalas and his son David talked about this year at camp meeting was the singing. Indeed, one of my favorite things about camp meeting is the singing. When we gather for worship, we spend the first fifteen to twenty minutes singing old camp meeting songs from the Cokesbury hymnal, and we have most of them memorized. From the smallest children to the most mature adults, from the trained soloists to the nearly tone-deaf, we all sing our hearts out with joy and abandon. It really is remarkable.

But it shouldn’t be. Methodists have always been a singing people, but somehow in recent generations we have gotten timid in our singing. Why is that, I wonder? Maybe some of us are uncomfortable singing in public. Maybe we don’t want to be showy. Maybe we think singing should be left to the professionals up front. Or we feel like we can’t sing out unless we know the tune well. Or we don’t like the songs. Or the instruments have gotten so loud that our voices can’t be heard. I don’t know what all the reasons are, but I do know that singing has always been a vital part of worship. And it doesn’t matter what the style of music is—old gospel, traditional, contemporary—the act of singing can help us feel and express our love for God in ways that are unique and powerful.

John Wesley gave the early Methodists some directions for their singing, and we would do well read them. They’re on page vii of the red hymnal if you want to look them up, but here are a few of them: “Learn these tunes before you learn any others…. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep…Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard…. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing God more than yourself, or any other creature…attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away by the sound, but offered to God continually.”

I want to invite and challenge all of us to sing more lustily and spiritually! If you hold back in your singing, for whatever reason, try taking just one Sunday to give God all you’ve got. As Brother Wesley says, “you will find it a blessing,” and you might find yourself doing it every Sunday.

 

Fellowship

In the book of Acts we see the earliest believers being shaped into a community. We get a glimpse of what life was like in the earliest days of the church. One of the things we learn about their life together was that they shared a lot of meals. Acts 2:46 says, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread from house to house and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” So it wasn’t we Methodists who invented the church potluck dinner. Eating together has always been important to Christians!

Table fellowship. There is something important that happens when Christians break bread together. Jesus said that whenever we break bread together, we remember him. He is among us and present at our table. Sharing a meal together is more than just passing around bowls of green beans and mashed potatoes and talking about the weather. In fact, it’s not really about the food. It’s, dare I say it, about relationship. When we share food, we share stories and experiences. We open our lives to each other. We become vulnerable. We offer ourselves.

Our congregation gathers around tables regularly throughout the year. We have meals on the All Church Retreat. We gather for the Youth Dinner Theater. We have Brunch and Carols on the Sunday before Christmas. And every Wednesday night during the school year, we gather around tables for supper. Granted, many who come on Wednesday nights dash in after a full day’s work at home or at the office. And many are rushing on to choir or to Bible study or to children’s choirs. The meal often feels rushed and hectic, but in that space of 45 minutes there is an opportunity for relationship and it is deeply valuable to our life together. I’m repeatedly amazed at what the Holy Spirit does around the tables as we gather each week.

It is easy for many of us to take this meal for granted. This past year we went through a transition, as Doug Fuqua stepped back from cooking in order to focus more of his time and energy on youth ministry. During the fall we had a local restaurant providing the food, and then the fabulous Trish Kaberle stepped up to become our new chef.

I think all of us love having a member of our own faith community who prepares the meal. What we may not realize, however, is how much work it takes to set up, cook, and clean up after every Wednesday meal. Trish, Brad Major and Mike Deweese carried a heavy load this winter and spring in order to feed all of us who gather on Wednesday nights. And that needs to change.

WE NEED YOU! Please help! We need to fully staff two crews each week: a prep crew and a clean-up crew. Trish needs a few regular volunteers to help prepare the food on Wednesday afternoons. Brad needs help cleaning up each week starting at 6:15. If you could help once every six weeks, that would be great! It takes a village, y’all! We can’t do it without you!

Wednesday night supper is a “family meal,” and by that I mean “church family.” And all of us members of the family need to participate and help. It is such an important ministry in our faith community. In fact, serving at the table was one of the first ministries to which people were called in the book of Acts. And the example was set by Jesus himself, who broke bread and shared it—and himself—with others.

 

Imagine No Malaria

Our Ministry Moment this past Sunday was for Imagine No Malaria, an effort of United Methodist churches across the globe to end   the malaria epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. As a denomination we are trying to raise $75 million, and our own Tennessee Conference of the UMC has pledged $1 million. We are well on our way. (To find out more, you can visit www.imaginenomalaria.org.)

Kathy Noble, who spoke on behalf of this ministry, shared some compelling statistics. Just a few years ago, one person in Africa died every 30 seconds from malaria. Because of many of the efforts of The United Methodist Church, including bed nets, medical clinics, health education and advocacy, that number has been cut in half. That’s good news, but we can do better.

If you’re like me, it’s easy to hear numbers and statistics like these but not actually listen to them. We, myself included, can quickly become numb to problems that are so far removed from our own daily lives. But when I was in Uganda last summer, the problem of malaria became very real to me.

Our mission in Uganda involved spending a week in Bwassandeku, where Raise the Roof Academy helps to educate hundreds of children in poverty. We hosted a Vacation Bible School for kids, a medical clinic and leadership sessions for pastors and community leaders. On the first full day that we were in Bwassandeku, I was helping with the leadership sessions for adults. During one of the sessions led by Chip Higgins, I sat in the back with some of the folks from the village. There was a woman next to me holding an adorable little girl who was staring at me and periodically smiling. An older woman on the other side of her gestured to me, as if to ask if I wanted to hold the little girl. I smiled, and the mother handed her to me.

I held the little girl on my lap as we sang worship songs and listened to the presentation. After a while I realized that her mother had left her seat. I didn’t worry about it too much because people were milling around the campus freely, and it wasn’t too difficult to find people. I was sure her mother would come back soon.

But time continued to pass. Half an hour became an hour. Slowly it dawned on me that the little girl was getting hotter and hotter. As a mother, I know a fever when I feel one, and this sweet child had a fever. And it was rising. She became listless and groggy, so I decided to take her up to the medical clinic.

In the clinic were doctors and nurses from Uganda as well as from our own medical team. One of them examined the little girl and knew right away what was wrong: malaria. They gave her some Tylenol and her fever went down. She began to perk up, so I went and got her some food. She ate and ate and ate. She smiled and pointed and cooed. Eventually, we found her mother in the crowd and they headed home.

I wonder how that little girl is doing today. I can hardly bear the thought that she might not make it to adulthood. This disease is treatable, curable and beatable. That’s why I’m supporting Imagine No Malaria. If you’d like to do the same, you can make a gift to Christ UMC and designate it for “Imagine No Malaria.” It works. It makes a difference. It saves lives.

 

Annual Conference

Believe it or not, it is almost time for Annual Conference! For those of you who are new to The United Methodist Church or have no idea what “Annual Conference” means, you can tell by the name that it’s some sort of meeting that happens once a year. Actually, it is a gathering of clergy and lay delegates from each United Methodist congregation in our “Tennessee Conference,” which is basically the geographical area of Middle Tennessee. Over a thousand pastors and lay leaders will gather at Brentwood United Methodist Church from June 8-11. We will worship, pray, celebrate ministries, ordain new pastors, honor retiring pastors and make decisions about the future of The United Methodist Church in Middle Tennessee.

Our congregation will actually have ten delegates at Annual Conference this year, our largest delegation ever! We have five clergy delegates: John, Mark, Paul, Nancy and myself. (Anne Hook is an ordained deacon, but she’s a member of the Memphis Conference.) Because we have five clergy delegates, we also get five lay delegates, and this year they are: Heather O’Dell, Ann Freeman, Bill Greer, Ouida Greer and Tammy Lovell. I would ask you to be in prayer for all of us who will be representing   our congregation at Annual Conference, that God might guide our worship, our prayer and our decisions.

Every year at Annual Conference we consider resolutions that are put before us by various groups and congregations. They vary widely in subject matter, but this year there are two resolutions in particular that I wanted to tell you about. One of the resolutions focuses on the death penalty in the state of Tennessee. As I mentioned in an article a few months ago, the state of Tennessee is preparing to execute at least ten people in the next two years, and just this week the governor signed a law to reinstate the electric chair as a viable means of capital punishment. The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church stand in opposition to the death penalty, and this resolution would call our state leadership to end its use in Tennessee.

A second resolution calls us into respectful and loving dialogue around questions of human sexuality. As you may know, The United Methodist Church is not united on these issues, and the division often becomes very politicized and rancorous. It is a debate that causes a lot of pain, and the resolution coming before Annual Conference simply invites us to acknowledge that—for the moment—we are not of one mind. It invites us to continue our dialogue and not walk away from one another.

I tell you about these resolutions because they are often the ones that make the headlines. You need to know what your church is talking about so that you can pray and be part of the conversation. If you would like to talk more in depth about these resolutions and where I or any of your other pastors or delegates stand on these questions, please let us know. Even if we disagree with one another, we are indeed called to love one another, to respect one another and to share openly from our hearts. God calls us to be the body of Christ. May we live that out so that the world will be amazed at our love for one another!

 

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