Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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Day 3: Minister Matters, Ministers Matter

Today was my first full day of conference. It began as I left my friends’ house at about 7:30 am to catch the train into London. Before i came to this country, i had never ridden a train so the fact that i get to take one every morning is a treat. Now as I write this at 7:30pm I realize just how long of a day it was!  To be honest, though I am not as exhausted as I thought I would be or probably should be. I imagine that this will change as the week goes on, but as the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun.

Once again I got to take pictures for the first half of the day. At the end of the conference I should write a post about my favorites because today was a good picture day. There were some humorous ones and some more somber both of which make my job as a photographer fun.

John Wesley is a delegate ex officio.

John Wesley is a delegate ex officio.

Today was the last day of the Presbyteral session of conference. As a person who is looking forward to (hopefully) being ordained it was interesting to watch the presbyters at work.  One of the phrases that is used a lot in the UMC for elders (presbyters) is “covenant community.” Yesterday, during the opening prayers, the ordination vows formed the basis for some of the petitions along with the Covenant prayer. I thought that was a really nice way of reminding the gathered clergy of the things that hold them together.

I think the moment that stood out the most to me was the service of remembrance for those who had died in the past year. As I talk to many members of conference this service rivals the service of ordination as the favorite moment if worship of the week. There is something really special about celebrating not just a life well lived but one that was dedicated in service to God and God’s Church.

Candles to honor those ministers who have died in the past year.

Candles to honor those ministers who have died in the past year.

The service was followed by a report on ministers with ill health. At one point, someone pointed out the significance of the placement intentional or not. In a lot of ways, I wish that this session had been during the full session of conference. Ministers stood up gave stories of mental burn out, family moments missed and the other sacrifices of ministry. Others, however gave moving stories of congregations that helped them protect time and held them accountable to care for themselves.

I am by no means suggesting that clergy have tougher careers than those in the pews, or that they are more busy than the average person whose time is taken up trying to make ends meet. However, statistics show that clergy in the US have more health problems than the national average and many leave ministry with their faith in pieces, and thus clergy health is something that needs to be at the forefront of the Church’s mind.

As we enter into what will be a very grueling week let us be in prayer for the Methodist Church, as well as the delegates to Conference as they make important decisions, but let us also take time to rest and pray for those people, lay and clergy, whose service to the Church costs them and their families. Let us also work to create environments where sabbath is taken seriously and rest and retreat and self-care are seen as a am important piece of a successful life and ministry.

(This is a series of blog posts during the British Methodist Conference. For other posts click here: Day 1, Day 2)

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For All the Saints.

I remember distinctly the day I fell in love with tradition and liturgy. It was All Saints day, 2007 at Trinity UMC in Gainesville, FL. For as long as I can remember my church has had the tradition where the last Sunday in October we remember all those who died the following year by showing their picture and ringing a bell. If you knew the person, as the bell is rung, you silently stand in honor of them and their connection to your life. In 2007 I had only stood up a couple of times, and almost stood up a few others, but in general had not thought very much of it.

In 2007, our church lost a young man named Chris Neiberger. He was about my age, we had been in the same Boy Scout troop for a few years, and I had seen his family a bit around church. We had never hung out, and would not have put his name on a list of friends. Chris was an Infantryman in Iraq and died after an IED explosion in Baghdad. His death struck me in a very strange way. It is the first time  I personally knew someone who had died in war, and brought the US war efforts home to me. I had not been able to make his service because of school, however, on that All Saints Sunday as his name was called, I stood. In that little action, standing next to my parents, we honored his memory, a life well lived, and a deep and generous faith. I realized in that moment the power of liturgy and tradition which allow us to make sense of the world around us. What was for many people just a yearly tradition became for me the language I needed to articulate something deep within myself that I could not have otherwise.

As I thought about All Saints Sunday today, I remembered my grandmother who died last December. Yesterday at my church, her picture was shown and a bell was rung, but I could not stand. As much as I wish I could have been there to participate with my family and my church family, the liturgy and tradition which gave me comfort in honoring Chris’ death also gives me the comfort for Granny’s as well. That is the other power in traditions, they are consistent. It does not need me to be there for it to happen because those things are not for me in the first place. The bells are rung whether anyone stands or not because as Christians we stop belonging just to our families and friends; we join a family of believers most of whom we will never meet. Most of my church never met my grandmother. But yesterday they saw her picture, heard her bell, and remembered her for me. That gives me comfort.

Today I attended the funeral of a woman named Mildred. She died right before I began working with North Road and so I never got the chance to meet her though I had met her daughter, a church member, several times. She told me that her mom, who was the child of a methodist minister, would have wanted me there–that is just who she was. It is an odd thing to attend a funeral for a stranger. But, at the same time, there is something very affirming and Christian about it. Since the beginnings of the Church, we have been a people who remembered our dead and the eternal hope which Christ offers to us, so that even though we die, will be given a new life in Him. Christian funerals (and Christian lives) proclaim this hope and celebrate it. It was an honor to be there for Mildred’s service and I was encouraged by the testimony given about her life.

As we enter into the end of the Church’s calendar and prepare to celebrate All Saints’ Day, let us remember those people we have lost who are closest to us, and those we lost and yet never knew:

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!


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My American Lives

I know that two posts in a row about death, is a bit morbid, but this is my blog, my life, and my grief, so deal with it.

Having lost two grandparents and my last great-grandparent this year, I have been doing a lot of thinking about death and grief. One of the surprising things I have discovered is that in grief there are certainly tears, but there are also a lot of laughs. Usually these come with remembering a funny story, or a particular quirk. The tears and the laughs so intermingled that they could be the same thing.

Today I saw a post by This American Life which featured a series of obituaries which only they could do. They focused on one story in the person’s life told either themselves, or by someone who was close to them. As with TAL, it is a celebration of the everyday person and the beauty we often overlook in our own lives. (My favorites are this, this, and this. Oh and for the math nerds, this.)

As I read each story, my mind went to the stories of my grandparents, and so I thought I would memorialize them here in a similar fashion. Having already told my favorite stories about Granny, I want to highlight the other two here.

Luella (Lala) Killinger (Aug 31, 1912-May 4, 2011) was born in the farmlands of Iowa and moved to Gainesville with my grandfather. She worked at the Police station as the Chief’s secretary for many years, where according to one of  the officers “she ran the office.” She was an avid fan or bridge, BINGO, and of course the Gators.

Stewart (Stute) Munson (July 26, 1929-July 9, 2011) was raised in Titusville, and worked for IBM fixing typriters. He and my grandmother got married (both for the second time) at parents’ house, catching them both completely by surprise! He enjoyed playing around in the kitchen, sometimes with success.

The Story

When I was in Middle School, my family was trying to decide where to take Stute for his birthday. After a few boring suggestions, we decided on every man, and Middle Schooler’s dream location–Hooters. We decided to keep it a surprise (a risky idea for a man who had already had one heart attack). We get him into the car and drive up to the restaurant, and the minute he sees where we are his eyes got as big as…saucers…and his face turns bright red. As much as he protested we draged him through the doors and over to our table. The entire night he was the center of attention. Young attractive servers sat on his lap to take his order, sang happy birthday, and tried to get him to dance on the table. Through the whole ordeal, his face remained the same color and he hardly said a word. It was hilarious.  However, the funnier person was Lala. Having told her in advance where we were going she spent the whole week telling everyone  at her independent living facility who would listen where we are going. To say that she was excited would be an understatement. As we were picking her up, she walked down the halls wearing it as a badge of honor, stopping to remind her friends where we were going. Sitting in the restaurant opposite Stute’s frowns, she was all smiles, looking around, taking it all in, and ready to report her adventure to her dinner buddies the next day. I think they both had a night which will soon be relatively famous.


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The Best of It

On December 9, my Grandmother died. When I was born, I was so fortunate to have 11 Grandparents and Great-Grandparents, and before this year I had seven remaining. After I had written my remarks I was reminded that the pain I feel at her loss, is worth the 24 years I was able to have with her. In this season of Christmas, when so many of us miss our loved ones, I wanted to share these words which iI shared at her service.

 

It seems strange standing here behind this podium without Granny’s wheelchair there in the front row. Every time I would preach, she would make Papa get her ready and bring her down. Being a seminary student means that you need need to have a scripture verse for everything, and the one which came to mind is the phrase-“You are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). Now I could tell you that is because Granny was a simple girl from Tennessee who loved her family, both real and porcelain family, but I would be lying. I think of salt of the earth because granny loved salt. I loved to eat over at their house when granny would fix green beans where it was almost a one to one salt:water ratio. Her Chex mix a favorite because it was drenched in love, and Worcheshire sauce and almost every kind of salt imaginable. I remember Papa getting onto her for putting salt on her food before she had even tasted it. It is a silly memory, but I think in a way it indicates the kind of person she was. Someone who lived life in abundance and saturated the people around her with salty love. I remember how every evening we would be sitting down for dinner, no matter what time, and the phone would ring. It was her. She didn’t have an agenda, or really any reason. She just wanted to hear her daughter’s voice on the phone, get caught up on the day. I remember the first time I got one of those random calls in undergrad. I was feeling homesick and her call just made everything feel normal. I was in my new home, and she was there with me as best she could.

On the archway leading outside one of the doors at the Divinity school is my favorite quote from John Wesley, “The best of it is, God is with us.” Every time I leave, I look at that quote, and since I have been home and we have all been reminiscing on Granny’s life, it has been stuck in my mind. The best of it is, God is with us. God was with Granny when she was born in Edgemore, TN, God was with her when the Government moved her family to Knoxville where she would meet a dapper young country boy named John. God had to have been with her raising all four of her kids (how else would she have survived?). In Utah as Papa drove those switchbacks as she held her broken neck in place, God was with her. As she kept beating me in our weekly games of Checkers, God had to be with her. In her last moments, surrounded by pictures of everyone she loved, as she was lifted up in prayer, God was with her. And so now as we gather here today, remembering the 80 years God was with her, we celebrate that today, Granny is with God.