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Praying For — part 12 in a series glancing back

The church is full of surprises.

Over several decades in the parish, my family and I sometimes found ourselves in unexpected and unpleasant situations. The people who were the local churches I pastored went out of their way to help.

And then there was this one guy.

About six months after a significant crisis, he told me he’d been praying for me. I thanked him.

“I don’t think you heard me. I was a-prayin’ for you.”

“Yessir, and I thank you.”

He looked away. Looked back at me. “What I mean is, I was a-prayin’ FOR ya.”

I suddenly got it: he’d been praying for me…when I couldn’t. When I’d run out of words. When my faith had withered. I asked him, “How’d you know?”

He said nothing, just uncharacteristically grabbed me and hugged me and then hurried away.

James 5:16 has never been the same for me. It says pray one for another.

He gave that verse new meaning.

You and I know people who need that kind of prayer support today. Let’s take a moment and follow his example.

Let’s pray for one another, especially that person who’s having trouble praying.

 

Murriel and Police Action — part 11 in a series glancing back

Lots of great teachers have lined my path, offering ideas and help and encouragement. I hope you’re enjoying meeting some of them here this month.

One is a man with the first name Murriel. It’s a family name with a rich history, and it’s pronounced “Merle.”

Now Murriel is a friend and colleague, but when I first met him he seemed intimidating beyond compare. He was one of our pastoral superstars. He knew things I could only guess at as a first-time pastor, and I usually guessed wrong.

Many times after an evening meeting at the Conference Office had run past 10pm, with me still looking at a two hour drive home, he walked me to my car. Asked me how things were going. Told me stories.

With just the two of us left on the parking lot, he told me things he’d found true. Things that worked. And ways to live into what an old song says so well:

Trust and obey,
for there’s no other way,
to be happy in Jesus,
but to trust and obey.

And sometimes Murriel offered me advice, like this: “Let the people of the church police their own.”

Looking back over my four decades in ministry,  he was right.

Way more often than not, healthy churches are already doing what Murriel said: “Let the people of the church police their own.”

As another friend from a different tradition loves to ask in a loud, sometimes rough voice, “Are ya listenin’ Church, are ya listenin’?

“Or not?”

Glad I listened to people like Murriel.

 

Dorothy, Bathsheba, and Ed — part 10 in a series glancing back

Let’s call them Dorothy and Ed.

Because their names really are Dorothy and Ed.

If you’ve ever been involved in a church, you’ll recognize them right away – —

They’re in every church.

Every pastor would gladly take a ton of people like them.

They’re the resident historians.

They are usually the first ones chosen by youth in Confirmation to be Mentors.

They’re involved in almost all the ministries of the church, even those for the older adults, “but we’re not there yet ourselves,” they say with grins.

Young couples regard their almost 60 year marriage as a goal, and often go to them for listening ears and loving advice.

They are there for just about every event in the life of the church. Even when the weather’s bad.

— Like it was on this night. They had called from a restaurant to tell me not to worry, that they were on their way, that a little snow and ice wasn’t slowing them down.

I suggested we cancel that evening’s Bible Study because of the unexpected winter weather.

Dorothy said there was no way to let everyone know, and that they’d hate for someone to get out  in such horrible road conditions only to find a note on the church door that Bible Study had been cancelled. Besides, she concluded, they’d be there in about ten minutes.

So it was that just the three of us were sitting in the church parlor, Bibles and lesson books open on our laps.

You know the kind of study guides that have lots of blank spaces to write your answers to reflection questions? Their blanks were all filled in. Of course they’d done their homework.

We were in 2nd Samuel 11. I had just read verse 2 out loud, One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Ed said, “but have you ever wondered?”

I looked up from my Bible. “Wondered what, Ed?”

“Just…well…imagine how good looking she much have been.”

“ED!” That was Dorothy. I’d never heard her be that loud.

“No, I mean really. For King David to…well, haven’t you two ever wondered?” He shifted in his chair, smiled wistfully, and concluded, “I mean, she had to be….”

Dorothy and I sat in silence, waiting for Ed to finish that sentence.

I can’t make up stuff this good.

And to think that some of us in seminary were afraid parish ministry would be boring!

See you back here tomorrow.

 

 

Open

Our denomination’s primary site, http://www.umc.org, says —

The United Methodist Church

is a 12.3-million-strong global church

with open hearts,

open minds

and open doors

 

— So what?

So this, in my humble opinion:

Open hearts…we care. Jesus says in John 3:17 that he wasn’t sent to condemn the world, and neither are we.

Open minds…we’re still learning. St. Paul wrote in Romans 12:2 that we’re to be renewed by the transforming of our minds, and that includes listening and learning together.

Open doors…and they swing both ways. One way is that you’re invited, and bring someone with you. The other way our doors work is when we go out, like Jesus says in Matthew 28:19, “Go into all the world.”

God calls all of us who are The United Methodist Church to be open.

Let’s.

 

So Much to Celebrate

I have not stopped
giving thanks for you. 

Ephesians 1:16

 

I don’t do this often.

Usually I find it kinda depressing, actually.

I’m just not normally a fan of reminiscing. Looking back. Remembering.

But this is altogether different!

In this space for the past two weeks I’ve invited you to join me in glancing back…over HOW MANY years of parish ministry?!…and it’s been great fun to share with you.

In fact, I hope to continue this series for another two weeks.

Scanning my recent blogs shows that they’re about people with whom I’ve been honored to share ministry, to share life together, and to simply walk side by side through a variety of experiences.

So, two quick things today:

  1. Thank You to everyone who told me to tell some of these stories here, and
  2. Thank You for reading these.

Or, to summarize with Scripture, I have not stopped giving thanks for you. (Ephesians 1:16)

There is so much to celebrate!

 

Your Turn — part 9 in a series looking back

We’re finishing up Church Camp Week here on my humble blog, and it’s your turn now.

The rest of us would love to hear from you, so please choose one or more of the following to get started:

 

Where did you go to church camp?

 

Who do you remember from then and there?

 

What were your sleeping accommodations?

 

What lessons/devotions/sermons

have stuck with you from then to now?

 

How was the food?

 

Do you have a favorite memory,

one that’d be appropriate to share here?

 

When you hear the phrase “church camp,”

what comes to mind?

 

And above all else,

how did God speak to you there?

 

I’m looking forward to hearing from you…a public Comment here’s probably the easiest, but a private Facebook Messenger works, too.

And I hope to see you back here tomorrow.

 

 

I’m Manly — part 8 in a series glancing back

There’s no expiration date on God’s ability to work through people like him.

He’s one of the people from whom Irene heard about church camp. (If you’re wondering who Irene is, scroll down to my blog from yesterday.)

A retired high school science teacher, he was one of the first people I’d met when I was appointed to his church as the new pastor.

Arriving at my initial meeting with the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee before the District Superintendent got there, I knew no better than to go ahead and get out of the car and go on in.

Several Committee members were there.

I was shaking hands and introducing myself to them, having a great time.

Then one of the men said, “Hi. I’m manly.”

I laughed and replied, “Oh yeah? I’m Joe. And I’m pretty manly, too.”

“That’s my name.”

“You’re a Joe, too? Good to meet you, Joe!”

“No, I’m not Joe. I’m manly!”

While I was trying to figure out my next line, a woman came up by him. “Good evening, Rev. Scheets. I’m Mary, and this is my husband. His first name is spelled M-a-n-l-e-y.”

“Sure, sure! Manley! Of course!” (Will the DS ever get here?! And what am I doing here?!) “Good to meet you, Mary!”

They turned out to be two of the most delightful people in a thoroughly delightful church it’s ever been my delight to serve. And if you see a pattern of delight in that sentence, you’ve just heard my delighted assessment of that congregation.

Somewhere in my first couple of years as pastor there, Manley heard me talking with others about church camp. He immediately asked if there’d be any room for a retired, run down high school science teacher.

Knowing him to be anything but run down, I assured him we could.

When Manley and I walked into his first Camp Counselor Training Day together, the group fell silent. It was easy to read their faces: What’s Joe done now? Is this some hitchhiker he picked up driving here? Is this another guest speaker Joe’s dragged in from state agency?

When we got to the opening day of  church camp, Manley was everywhere at once. Introducing himself to campers. Helping them carry the month’s worth of supplies they’d brought for the week. Assuring the adults dropping them off that it was going to be a wonderful week, and that he the other adults would take good care of your camper, so you just go on back home now, have a great week yourself, and we’ll see you Saturday morning.

When we got to the first full day of church camp, Manley was being followed by a group of campers who hung on his every word, showed him things they’d found in the woods, asked him their follow up questions from that morning’s devotional or group lesson time or last night’s sermon. Or they just hung out with him to be close to him.

Manley listened. He took them, their questions, and their concerns seriously.

Manley cared.

There’s no expiration date on God’s love shining though people like Manley.

And you.