Monday, November 25, 2013

I was a stranger and you welcomed me

In 1982 I agreed to coordinate a night shelter at Trinity UMC near the State Capital. I had been volunteering at the nearby shelter at Central Presbyterian. As that shelter became dangerously overcrowded, the need for additional space became apparent. Trinity’s shelter operated during the cold months of February and March that year, and I was often scrambling for volunteers. If you had told me then that thirty-one years later, the problem of homelessness would be even worse, I would not have believed it. Those of us who were coordinating church shelters in 1982 thought that we would be able to solve the problem of homelessness by opening a few shelters.

Over these 31 years, I have accepted that God has called me to connect the church to those we would call “the least of these” according to the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. When Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” I see this as an opportunity to see the face of Jesus in the faces of those we serve. If Jesus comes as a homeless person, sometimes Jesus has had a bad day! He may come to us as one who is ragged, smelly, or delusional. When I accept these encounters as a way to experience Jesus, I look for what he wants to teach me through these meetings. An encounter with Jesus challenges me to question my assumptions, to put my faith into action, and to work to bring about change to policies and systems that cause people to fall into homelessness.

As Director of the Housing and Homeless Council, I have had the opportunity to see people all over the North Georgia Conference who are putting their faith into practice by serving people in need in their communities. When churches contribute to the Homeless Offering, the funds are distributed as grants to ministries all over the Conference. Members of the Housing and Homeless Council make site visits to the applicants, and we come back and report on all the good work that is going on as we seek to serve Christ in the person of the homeless and hungry.

--Rev. Virginia Tinsley, director of the NGa Conf. Housing and Homeless Council.

God Is Still In Control! 

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, November 18, 2013

Re-Advent Yourself

The prayerful preparation of Advent seems to always compete with the constant call of Christmastime conspicuous consumption. I have wondered what could actually slow us down enough to change the way we make decisions in these hectic days before Christmas.

Anne Rex, pastor at Fields Chapel near Canton, designed a unique Advent gift for members of her congregation. She passed out a laminated “master” card (pictured below) and asked everyone to put the card in front of the credit cards in their purse or wallet. Then during the intensity of the Christmas shopping season, she invited her people to look at the card and to ponder the five questions before making any purchase.

The questions continue to echo:

1. Do I really need this item?
Does the person I am buying it for really need it?
2. Can I afford to just buy something rather than investing myself more fully in my relationship with the intended recipient?
3. Does my giving recognize the injustices that litter our world today?
Will this product be a dust catcher or merely find its way to a future yard sale?
4. How might we give gifts that really endure?
5. Have I remembered the real birthday boy on my shopping list?
Can you ever BUY Christmas? Maybe Christmas can only be born.

Ideas are just ideas unless they actually change our behavior and change us. So now I keep one of these cards in my wallet, in front of my credit cards, forcing me to ponder my own spending habits every time I reach into my wallet, calling me to go deeper in my own Advent journey as I make more room for what Christ is trying do with me. So perhaps it’s not just how I spend the money God has entrusted to me, but how I spend my time, my energy, and my thoughts.

How might your spending change this Advent?

-- Blessings and Peace, Rev. Dr. Phil Schroeder, North Georgia Annual Conference

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, November 11, 2013

We Are The Church Together

We looked at one another and pointed and made motions as we sang.  I always feel a little silly doing the song.  But, I remember it well.

The longer I live, the more I find my memories to be like snapshots in my mind.  They come and go; they are here at one moment, then gone the next.

One of my favorite memories is that of standing in my home church as a young adult (which really was not too long ago) leading children and youth in singing Hymn 558 in our United Methodist Hymnal.  I am sure all of us in the Cal-Pac Conference hold advanced degrees in hymnology.  But, just in case my assumption is not true, let me note that I am talking about the hymn, “We Are the Church.”

I am the church!  You are the church!  We are the church together! All who follow Jesus all around the world! Yes, we are the church together!

Is this a part of the hymn that we sing as a local church? A Mission Area?  A District?  A United Methodist Church?  The call to be together in this fragmented world is visibly obvious.  It does not take long to notice just how many people throughout our neighborhoods, if not the world, feel so alone.  And, the ways in which we keep ourselves from others is many times all too normal: we drive alone in our cars, put on earphones when we listen to music in public places, and we sit behind computer screens for a large portion of the day.

The question is: how might we minister in this environment?

Our way is to offer the church in the name of Jesus to all!  And, let us not forget that "offer" is a verb.  I was excited to experience this verb in action as I worshiped at one of our local churches this past Sunday.  The preacher, the worship, the greeters and the people all consistently and genuinely echoed this call to community in their own loving and biblical way.

My prayer is for this to be the standard throughout our Conference, not the exception.  These holy moments inspire me to believe that we must continually look for opportunities to live out, and live into, God's call for us to share ourselves with others in making disciples for the transformation of the world.

Yes, this is God's call: that we be the church TOGETHER!

--By Rev. Dr. Stephen Hundley, Cal-Pac AC, REFLECT email newsletter

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, November 4, 2013

“House Rules”

We have young children; therefore, we have house rules. You know the type: Do your chores. Don’t hit.  Clean your room. 

In the past, the kids would invariably do something they knew was wrong, only to say, “You didn't say that was against the rules!” (Kids are so good at technicalities!) Other times, they would just blatantly disobey. (Ugh!) So, in an effort to simplify and be more effective, my husband and I combined Mr. Wesley’s wisdom and a wise parishioner’s parenting tip into the “New and Improved Nelson House Rules:” 

1. Obey people in authority (parents, teachers, etc.). 

2. Do no harm to others: instead, do good to others. 

With the understanding that obedience and doing good produce positive consequences (yay!), and disobedience and doing harm produce negative consequences (boo!). 

We want our children to respect, obey, and appreciate authority so that one day that perspective will be broadened to respect, obey, and appreciate the authority of God in their lives, and in light of that, do good for others in the world. 

Case in point: Some of you may recall a Monday Morning in North Georgia I wrote in the fall called “Fruit in my Fridge.” In the article I relayed a personal story of when I said,  “I’ll know I’m RICH when my fridge is filled with fruit,” and later came home to find a huge bag of fruit hanging from my mailbox on a day when I had been seriously struggling with contentment.  

So, did you wonder who put the bag of fruit on my mailbox? 

Sherri is the obedient servant. When I learned she was my “fruit fairy,” I told her her how much the kind gesture spoke God’s love and provision right to my heart, right when I needed it.  And I asked her what possessed her to hang fruit from my mailbox, and she shared this: 

“Your words about being rich with fruit in your fridge tugged at my heart, and the Holy Spirit said, ‘You can do something about that, and do it anonymously.’ So I went to the grocery store, full of joy, and began to pick out the freshest and best looking fruit I could find.  I was so excited to think about you finding it!” 

I hope to teach my children through our family’s house rules the joy of obedience so that one day they can become the “Sherris” of tomorrow, obeying the Good Authority and blessing others with the positive, joyful consequences of doing good to others. Amen.

--Anne Nelson wife of Rev. Matt Nelson, pastor of Inman Park UMC in Atlanta. North GA Ann Conf.

God Is Still in Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer