Archive for April, 2008

Our African Brothers and Sisters

Today (Tues) we heard an address from the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  She is the first democratically elected woman president in Liberia and Africa, and a Methodist!  It was incredible, she spoke about a shared goal of eliminating poverty.  It was great to hear of the progress they are making in Liberia, but we have a long way to go.

Yesterday we were blessed by music from the Africa Children’s Choir.  Those kids were SO cute, and wonderful performers!  We learned the Africa Children’s Choir is a program in Uganda for kids who are orphans, where they go to a Methodist-based/supported school and sing/perform together!  There might be a link on the General Conference website with their performance.  My post doesn’t do it justice, you need to see it yourself.

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April 30, 2008 at 5:56 am 1 comment

…for the Transformation of the World

The mission statement for the United Methodist Church has officially been changed!  Our mission statement is now “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World”. 

I’m excited about our mission statement, but even more for the Four Focus Areas.  As a person employed by the private sector, I’m familiar with organization goals and setting measurable actions to reach those goals.  The United Methodist Church has established the following Focus Areas for the next Four Years:

  1. Developing Principled Christian Leaders for the Church and the World
  2. New Places for New People and Renewing Existing Congregations
  3. Engaging in Ministry with the Poor
  4. Stamping Out Killer Diseases of Poverty by Improving Health Globally

Not only do we have these four focus areas, but all the agencies have built their budgets around support of these areas, and they have specific measurable goals.  How incredible will it be if United Methodists help reduce the malaria mortality rate by 66% of children younger than age 5! 

 

My hope and prayer is that we as The General Conference will make sure our votes and legislation passed also reflects support of these focus areas!

April 30, 2008 at 5:32 am 2 comments

To Have or Not to Have…

I am a firm believer in Holy Conferencing/Respectful Dialogue.  I saw it in action the past few days.  What an amazing experience. 

I will be honest, I was a anxious about discussing a topic where there are many passionate perspectives.  I have heard stories of heated and hurtful debates in other committees, but I was thankful that my group of 15 people were able to engage in healthy conversations and disagreements.  We were finally able to come to a majority vote on a proposal (also expect a minority report), but I truly felt we respectfully listened to each others’ point of view and found where we have commonality.  It is uplifting to work together towards the common goal of building the future church. 

For those interested, we were discussing the topic of pastoral authority, a complicated subject.  Should a pastor have the right to determine who is allowed membership?  Should any “unrepenting sinner” be allowed to join the church?  What about those who aren’t sincere in their membership vows, and just want to be about to check the “member” box in the registration pad prior to joining the next church-wide potluck?  If we limit membership to a certain criteria, what is that criteria?  Who does the church really belong to, thus getting the final say in who becomes a member? 

After much thoughtful consideration…here is where I am on this topic.  I don’t want to go down the path of what is/is not a sin, because I don’t think it’s relevant in this discussion, at the end of the day we are all sinners.  The church is not my church, or my pastor’s, or that of the United Methodists, it’s God’s church.  I think ultimately, the decision of membership readiness is between the individual and God.  We can never know the hearts and minds of a person, therefore I don’t see how someone else can discern “readiness”.  I hear and understand the logic behind pastoral authority, i just don’t see how you can measure such a criteria.

April 27, 2008 at 8:03 pm 6 comments

Roll call: Tara? Here! God? Here!

Ok, God Is obviously here in so many ways, but I had an experience at lunch Thursday that could only be the work of God.  (yes, Sunday is a little late to post about this…but my first opportunity..you may get a few posts today)

 

Thursday over lunch there were three options to choose from 1) The MFSA Immigration Rally, 2) The Connectional Table informational session on the Global Church re-structuring, and 3) The Laity Luncheon.  Since I had already signed up for the Laity Luncheon, and I was hungry, I chose option #3, although I was wondering if I would be a “better” delegate if I participated in one of the other options. 

Half-way through our meal, I met the woman sitting to my left, Sarah from New Orleans.  We quickly realized we met ~10 years ago while I was at Tulane!  I was active in the Wesley Campus Center while I was at Tulane, and Sarah served on the Campus Center’s Board.  We had a wonderful time reminiscing about the young adults at the campus center, the pastor Rev. Judy Shema who played a significant role in my spiritual development, and discussing the New Orleans Katrina recovery efforts which the UMC has played a major role.   

I just thought, what are the chances, of all the Methodists in the world, that Sarah and I would be elected delegates, and of the thousands of Methodists in Fort Worth these weeks, that we would sit next to each other over lunch. 

 

 

April 27, 2008 at 7:09 pm Leave a comment

I’m Talking and I Can’t Shut Up

When I was in the 7thgrade, my brother gave me a t-shirt with this saying on it.  Apparently, it still applies.

Tonight we met in our legislative committees for the first time, and divided into sub-committees and working groups.  I’m on the Local Church Committee, which has 82 members speaking English, German, French, Russian, Portuguese and Swahili.  We deal with all petitions (proposed changes) relating to the “organization of the local church and its membership, programs, boards, councils, commissions, committees, etc., or relating to local church property.” 

One of the hot topics raised in this committee is membership criteria, primarily in response to Judicial Council Decision 1032 where a pastor was allowed to deny a person membership to the church due to his sexual orientation. 

Long story short, as our sub-committee focusing on membership was dividing into working groups, I piped in a few times offering suggestions to help with the process.  So…as our chair assigned folks to lead each working group, he asked me to lead the Church Membership Eligibility group.  My big mouth gets me into trouble again! 

Friends – my working group is focused only on paragraph 214, but this will likely be one of the most debated topics.  The 13 petitions range from “…shall not be denied membership due to sexual orientation” to “allow membership at the pastor’s discretion if lifestyle is compatible with Christian teachings”.

I am honored for this opportunity, not just because it is a topic of great interest to me, but because after hearing two days of emphasis on the need for Holy Conferencing, Respectful Dialogue and Christian Conversations, I have been concerned with how we, as a General Conference, will apply these guidelines.  I will be able to (God-willing) help guide our 15 person working group to model the use of the Holy Conferencing guidelines, with the hope that we can find common ground. 

Please, keep me, our working group, and the General Conference in your prayers!

p.s. I will post on the 4 Focus Groups I referenced at some point…it’s late again…I should sleep.

April 25, 2008 at 5:57 am 3 comments

One down, 9 to go!

They weren’t lying about the long days…went to bed at 1am, got up at 6:15am, so my apologies for not blogging last night…looks like break blogs will work for me! 

Day 1 was very exciting!

First, the Women’s Luncheon sponsored by Commission on the Status and Role of Women.  We sat with others on our committee, I met some wonderful women, including Anita from New Orleans, and Katrina survivor.  She shared her thankfulness for all the UMC did to support her home and church recover.   

Worship at this luncheon was inspiring.  Singing “I’m gonna live so God can use me”, reminds me of our purpose.  Rev. Dorothy Watson-Tatem is a dynamic preacher.  She reminded us we were not “elected” as delegates, we were called by God.  We are called to use that which God has given us!  Amen Sister!

Young Adult Orientation – We counted ~45 delegates under the age of 30, representing multiple countries.  I enjoyed catching up with a few friendly faces, and meeting many new!     

Opening Worship.  WOW.  I heard all the worship is incredible.  You can’t believe it until you see it.  The wood used to create the pulpit, alter and table was taken from the Katrina impacted Gulfside Assembly in Mississipi. We sang everything from traditional hymns to African songs to the beat of drum.  Bishop Janice Huie planted the seeds for our Future with Hope.  One of the most moving moments was sharing Holy Communion together.  The elements were blessed by a circle of Bishops at the center of the arena.  All the delegates and visitors faced the center while participating in the Great Thanksgiving together.  They estimate there were ~6500 people present at worship last night, 1100 more than in 2004. 

Final joy of the day…trail mix.  Eric lovingly made a 10-day supply of trail mix for me.  We went from 6pm-after 11pm last night & missed dinner.  The Southwest Texas delegates thank Eric Thronson for his delicious and energizing trail mix!

Sorry this is so short and to the point, just wanted to share bits of joy from my day.  Already excited about this morning…I’m very excited about the 4 Focus Areas…will post more on those and my thoughts next time.

April 24, 2008 at 7:28 pm 3 comments

Vacation on the beach? No thanks!

I am about to take amost two weeks off from work, my co-workers keep asking if I’m going somewhere “exotic”, or if it’s a relaxing vacation somewhere.  I respond with “Nope, not sitting on a beach, I’ll be at the Fort Worth Convention Center.”  The question that keeps coming up over and over again is WHY?

Why am I spending my “vacation” time at a church conference?  Why did I want to be a General Conference delegate to begin with?  Why do I think I might be able to make a difference?  Simple questions, not so simple answers. 

What it comes down to is this.  I have a strong passion in my heart for the United Methodist Church.  The UMC has played a significant role in my spiritual development and I am grateful for my experiences with Christian fellowship as a part of the UMC.  Although I love the church, I feel there are some church policies which don’t fully enable our ability to follow our mission statement to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. 

Many in my generation have turned away from the church because they think institutionalized religion is judgmental or hypocritical.  I would like to contribute towards efforts to improve these policies.  The decisions made at General Conference will, among other things, ether help or hinder us in welcoming younger generations into the UMC. 

April 21, 2008 at 12:55 am 3 comments

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