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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!

 

Summer is Almost Here!

Summer is almost here! Many schools are closing, young people are walking across stages to get their diplomas, swimming pools are being cleaned, bug spray and sunscreen are flying off the shelves, and our church is gearing up for a whole array of summer ministries.

Keep your eyes peeled for more information about the first annual Firefly Festival on June 1 and about the special Sunday School offerings being planned for June and July. Start bringing your gently used clothing to the church for Christ’s Closet, our clothing giveaway in late July. Spend time praying for our youth who will be traveling on choir tour and to Mountain T.O.P. in the coming weeks. Pray for all of the lay and clergy delegates from middle Tennessee who will gathering for Annual Conference in mid-June. The list of things to do and ways to participate in the life of the church this summer is long!

But before the summer season gets into full swing, I want to tell you about something exciting that’s coming up in the fall. I know, I know. Who wants to be thinking about   the fall right now? But trust me, you’ll want to know about this! Since many of you will be traveling and on different schedules in the coming weeks, I want to introduce it to you now because I’m too excited to wait much longer!

Beginning in the first week of August and ending in May of 2015, our congregation will take a “Journey through the Bible” together. We are going to work our way through the whole biblical story from Genesis to Revelation over the course of ten months. We’ll be taking this journey on Sundays during worship, and there will be many opportunities for small group studies and classes. We’ll also have some resources available as well for anyone who wants to read the Bible through on their own. All the plans are still being made, but suffice it to say that there will be many different ways to join in this journey!

I can’t overemphasize how important it is for all of us to read the Bible. So many of us feel like we really don’t know the Bible at all. We’re intimidated by it. It’s an enormous book with all different kinds of literature inside it: story, poetry, parables, letters, apocalyptic writing, drama. It’s confusing and often leaves us with more questions than answers. What’s more, we hear the Bible used and misused so often that we get overwhelmed trying to understand it on our own. It’s easier just to let others tell us what it says rather than to try and decipher it ourselves.

If you’ve ever felt this way about the Bible, let me invite you into a “year with the Bible,” starting in August. We’ll be reading it together, so you won’t be in it alone. There will be others reading it alongside you and lots of places to bring your thoughts and insights and questions. No doubt, as we read together we will have many questions that don’t get answered. But I believe with all my heart that we will hear from the living God, who continues to speak through the scriptures to all who open their hearts and minds.

So, if you’re looking for some good summer reading, why not get a head start on reading the Bible? Maybe you could read the book of Genesis between now and August. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you could read the whole Torah, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. Either way, begin praying now about how God might be inviting you to join in this journey through the Bible!

 

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