Monday, October 28, 2013

Lessons from the Neighborhood

When I was a child, there were adults in my neighborhood who played special roles. They were characters who entertained and taught us in their own special way.

There was Mr. W.T., who sat on his front porch and threw candy at us like it was a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Isiah, whom we called “Wise,” always had a sing-song rhyme of a wisdom saying that sounded more like “pool hall banter” than a proverb. And then there was Mr. Alvin, who was the self-proclaimed Sheriff of the neighborhood. He actually walked around with a toy badge and an unloaded Colt 45. He saw his job as making sure that things were running smoothly in the neighborhood. But if there were any signs of conflict, like Barney Fife of Mayberry, he would often complicate matters and someone else would have to come in and clean things up.

Mr. Richard, who drove his 1975 Pontiac Grand Ville like Richard Petty in the Daytona 500, played rule enforcer. He had the keys to the neighborhood park and wouldn’t allow profanity, violence, or mischief to occur on park grounds.
And there was Mrs. Patterson, who made homemade cupcakes and had a choice selection of grape, orange, or strawberry soda. We could buy a cupcake and soda for a quarter at her house - and get a lecture on the importance of saving money while we were there.

Many of the lessons I learned in childhood seemed to center around the basketball court in the neighborhood park. I watched my adult neighbors practice fairness, responsibility, and doing their share to make our community better. I learned about honesty, patience, compassion, generosity, courage, gratitude, forgiveness, loyalty, and respect by walking up and down the streets.  

But it didn’t stop there. I saw many of the same adults in church on Sunday mornings worshipping God.  They were ushers, greeters, lay speakers, Sunday school teachers, confirmation class mentors, and choir members. 

Like the mentors who trained their protégés by walking around using hands-on teaching; I was taught that character is about who we are and what we do when people aren’t watching us. I learned how to “walk the walk” of Christian character.

--Dr. Quincy Brown, Vice President for Spiritual Life and Church Relations at LaGrange College. North GA Ann Conf.

God Is Still in Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, October 21, 2013

'Amazing Grace'

Grace is sometimes defined as God finding some favor with a person. But, is that the whole of grace? For me, grace is more substantive than a favoring – which can be momentary and changeable. God’s grace is an ultimate act of love. For God so loved the world that God gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever shall believe shall not die, but have the gift of eternal life. (John 3:16) This is more than finding favor. This grace is a sacrificial love that can only truly be grasped through spiritual awakening. God’s love for us is all-encompassing and enduring, whether we feel we are “in favor” or not.

The hymn "Amazing Grace" was written by the captain of a slave ship. It would be short-sighted to determine that God favored the captain over the hundreds of Africans he delivered to slavery and, perhaps, death. Yet, what God gave the captain was a testimony which beautifully conveys that God’s grace is available and offered to all. Today, this song, penned by someone who would be thought of as “unredeemable” by some, is sung by both the descendants of the author and the descendants of the Africans he transported as slaves—-with equal fervor.

As believers, we come to an understanding that we are all sinners saved through God’s grace -- the blood of Christ. “For ... grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). To know that God willingly allowed Jesus to suffer the pains of death so that we could be saved from our own sins and become one with Him, fills one with humility, rather than a sense of self-righteousness.  

I am eternally thankful to know that I am a beneficiary of God’s great love and grace; and in knowing, I daily seek a closer relationship with God. Whether in sickness or in health, whether in times of plenty or in need, I see God’s grace in my life. No other could raise me from my bed of affliction and cause me to walk again. No other could give me a calling to fulfill for His glory. No other could fill my heart with joy. No other could wash away my sins. It is in knowing God’s love—that Christ died and rose to save me—that I can sing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

--Pamela Perkins Carn, coordinator of the Interfaith Children's Movement and a member of Central UMC in Atlanta. North Georgia Ann Conf.

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, October 14, 2013

And a Child Shall Lead Them

I am not a bumper sticker person. I’m not quite sure why I have this adverse feeling toward words and glue stuck to the bumper of my car, but I do. However, I do enjoy those who love bumper stickers. Their bumpers entertain me. Their bumper stickers cause me to chuckle; stir me through inspiration and at times make my blood boil in anger. 

A bumper sticker that once caused me to roll my eyes in a ‘whatever?!’ sort of attitude was the bumper sticker that read “Let Me Tell You about My Grandchildren!”  No longer do my eyes roll. I now totally understand and agree. You see I have the two most precious grandchildren in the entire world (I’m not biased at all). Caroline is four and Luke is two. They reach, touch and teach me in ways I never imagined possible.

Caroline (4) asks her ‘Shady’ (this is what they call Sharon, her grandmother) as she applies her make-up “Shady, what are you doing?”  “I’m putting on my make up.”  “But why are you doing that Shady, you’re beautiful just the way you are!”  Out of the mouth of babes comes a truth that speaks to the soul.  

Luke (2) is at the stage in life where he believes that a kiss heals all things.  Whether it is stumped toe, bug bite or an incision from knee replacement surgery, all one needs to do is kiss the violated area and the result is…all is well. You see a two year old believes there is power in a kiss. And a child shall lead them. 

I shall always remember the question of a child in my first appointment at Ebenezer UMC in Conyers. During ‘Small Talk’ (that’s we called the Children’s Moment in worship) Corey Kohlmeyer, age 6, raised his hand and asked this Pastor in front of the entire congregation: “Preacher Terry, why do we call ‘Good Friday’ good?”  

You could have heard a pen drop on the sanctuary carpet. All ears turned to see how this young ‘whipper-snapper’ of a preacher was going to answer a child. In that moment a child captured a worship service.

This week our Bishop will ask those candidates who offer themselves for ordination, “Will you teach the children in every place?” A simple but very important question! But I have to wonder if another question might also be appropriate. Perhaps Bishops should ask us all—laity and clergy alike, “Will we allow children to teach us in every place?” God speaks in all kinds of ways … I hope I’m listening. Now that’s a bumper sticker I just might put on my bumper!

--Rev. Terry Walton, senior pastor of Gainesville First UMC. North Georgia Ann Conf.

God Is Still in Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, October 7, 2013

All Are Welcome Here

A small brick church is located on a street corner in a high crime transitional neighborhood.  

During the week, more than 100 students in grades 4-12 fill the building to overflowing for the Hands of Christ After School Program. Picnic tables under the trees are in daily use for church activities and community families enjoying the shade and the playground. During the summer months, residents from the surrounding community come daily for free lunch where all are welcome.  

On Sunday morning the congregation begins to gather 45 minutes before worship begins. Some come walking, some drive a few minutes, some drive more than half an hour. There are families with children - lots of children - young adults, singles, straight and gay. There are Hispanics, Anglos and African Americans. There are people from Peru, Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico. Some can barely read, others have graduate degrees. Some have served prison time. Some are recovering alcoholics. Some are citizens; some are not. There are many differences, but those differences are unimportant as the congregation gathers for worship at Iglesia Metodista Unida Douglas Street United Methodist Church. 

After being greeted on the patio, most people stop by a small room on the right of the narthex for continental breakfast, which is taken into the traditional sanctuary and eaten throughout the service. As the music begins there are worship videos in English and Spanish, traditional hymns, contemporary music and a variety of musical styles. Diversity is the face of worship in this multicultural, bi-lingual church.  

Every Sunday is a day of Pentecost with worshippers hearing the Gospel in their own language. Many who worship on Sunday have not felt comfortable or welcome in other churches. Here they find a church home where all are welcome. Because we are one in Jesus Christ, we look for ways to build bridges.  

It has been my privilege for more than ten years to be pastor of this wonderful congregation. Each day I see God at work and lives being transformed. 

In Luke 10:27 Jesus calls us to love God and love our neighbors. What bridge is God asking you to build?  Who needs a place to feel welcomed?  What doors need to be opened? 

--Rev. Angela Gilreath-Rivers, pastor of  Iglesia Metodista Unida Douglas Street United Methodist Church.

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer