Archive for the ‘PNW Annual Conference’ Category

As I was being introduced to the Staff-Parish Relations Committee of Trinity UMC, a committee member asked me why I wanted to move to Ritzville.

I wasn’t particularly expecting the answer that came out of my mouth.

God, I said. Because of God. (more…)

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It’s time, and a little past time, for my near-annual request that boards of ordained ministry, conference worship committees, and our bishops, get it right.

There’s a line in the ordination service that I’ve heard my bishops get wrong almost every year, for all forty-ish of my years of ministry. Certainly, I’ve witnessed them get it wrong far, far more often than I’ve heard them get it right.

After the candidates have been examined, and responded “I will, with the help of God,” the Bishop responds to these sacred statements of their intention – of their will with:

“May God,
who has given you the will to do these things
give you the grace to perform them.” (2017-2020 Ordinal, pp. 21, 41, 60)

Most of the bishops under whom I’ve served, most years, near-exhausted after presiding over complex legislative sessions and fractious clergy sessions, and now on the home stretch after a too-long day in a too-long week, deliver these lines with two words especially emphasized:

“May God,
who has given you the will to DO these things
give you the grace to PERFORM them.”

This spoken emphasis implies that the ideas being contrasted in these lines are “do” and “perform” which, sorry to say, are synonyms. As an ordinand, it was puzzling. Almost every year, it is a little jarring. And it’s a missed opportunity.

The contrast intended in the ordinal is not between the synonymous “do” and “perform,” but between the clearly distinct pair, “will” and “grace.”

“May God,
who has given you the WILL to do these things
give you the GRACE to perform them.”

Yes. Even our determined intention to fulfil our vows (our WILL to accomplish that list of sacred tasks) is frail, and in the heat of conflictual moments, the thirst of long dry spells, the deadeningly monotonous slog through administrivia, the ice of fears and failures, our work is utterly dependent on God’s GRACE.

Please, bishops? Will you stress WILL and GRACE this year? May God (and perhaps the help of your worship committee’s highlighters) give you the grace to perform it!

Source (and pages to highlight the bishop’s copy): https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/2017-2020_Ordinal-FINAL.pdf, pp. 21, 41, & (for consecration of bishops) 60.

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Note: The United Methodist press & web are going to town about a book of inspirational writings that the United Methodist Publishing House published, then recalled after it was revealed that the author (or, “author”) had plagiarized at least some of the work in the book, presenting it as if it was his own.

The author is a United Methodist pastor that most of us wouldn’t have heard of. But the book would have been a best-seller, at least in church circles, because the contents were daily reflections that he had sent to a parishioner whose name we know: Hillary Clinton.

From all accounts, it would have been a really good book, if permissions had been received where permissions were required, and if credit had been given where credit was due. But instead, it’s just a mess.

Here’s what that gets me thinking about. 

Faith Callahan with her walker, Mount Rainier in background

The week after Annual Conference one year, I visited my Grandma Callahan at Wesley Terrace, her retirement home. She was unhappy, and perplexed.

Sunday morning, she’d attended worship in her nearby church, where her pastor had preached a really inspiring sermon, a sermon that hinged on a story of something that had actually happened to him that very morning. Grandma Callahan was really moved.

That evening, she went to vespers at her retirement home.  This guest preacher was another United Methodist; he had a pretty good sermon, but it hinged on something — the same thing — that had actually happened to him that morning on the way to church.

I could help her with her perplexity. At Conference our bishop had opened his sermon with “When I was walking this morning, … .” It was a really good story, and it gathered energy because it had actually happened to him just that morning, and it was a perfect illustration for his point!

(My text-criticism sensors were going off during the bishop’s sermon. I get suspicious about preachers’ stories that are just too neat or clever. It might be my Saturday Night Live hermeneutic, with Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” character announcing, “How conveeeenient!” The bishop could have gotten that story from a book of sermon illustrations for all occasions.)

Both of Grandma’s preachers had heard the Bishop’s sermon the previous week. And, perhaps weary from a week at Conference, both had used it. And both had passed it off as their own experience.

I could help her with the perplexity: how the two preachers happened to use the same story on the same day. But I couldn’t help her with the unhappiness: how two [or, counting the bishop, three!] preachers could have such lack of integrity as to tell a story that obviously wasn’t their own, as though it was their own? If my own pastor tells one experience that’s patently not their own, how can I trust them in any other thing they say? And if two out of two (or three out of three) pastors have that lack of integrity, what is to be inferred about all the others?

I still can’t help her with that.

The very idea that preachers can get “sermon illustrations” from books of sermon illustrations has always baffled me. But at the very least, the VERY least, the preachers — including the bishop — could use the line I heard Fred Craddock use (giving him credit, of course): “I don’t know if this ever happened, but it’s True.”* Where quotations are used in print or online, the citation should be complete, like a proper footnote. Where a person’s words or ideas are used in preaching or speaking, credit should be given orally, and (wherever possible) in text as well.

It’s about showing ourselves trustworthy in a few things, at least in one thing. It’s about not losing people’s trust, not only in ourselves, but in others. And it should be so easy!

I think our bishops can help with this. Let them decide to model ethical preaching & writing , and to state that it’s one of their expectations of the pastors they appoint. Let the preachers they invite to address the Conferences also model these standards.

I think the United Methodist Publishing House can help with that. Let it decide to do due diligence in considering manuscripts and screening for plagiarism before agreeing to publish, and make its policies & procedures public. When it fails, let it show how it failed, and how it is revising its policies & procedures, to minimize the chance of a repeat.

I hear the seminaries are already doing a decent job of encouraging ethical preaching & writing, and the ethical environment is far more diverse, with social media, electronic communications, and more awareness of power & privilege differentials, but ethics around use of other people’s material in preaching & writing wasn’t really emphasized in my day (except of course for academic writing).

I think my Grandma Callahan can help as well (along with the many Grandma Callahans of the church who are still in this life). Let them go to the preacher whose story they suspect, and ask pointed questions: “Did you write that, or did it come from someone else?” And give them pointed feedback: “When I notice you doing that, I lose trust in you.” But don’t just  be negative. Be just as engaged when they DO cite their sources: “I really appreciate that you shared that story from ______. Could I borrow the book? I want to know more.”

It might make the after-service handshake line a scarier place for preachers, but that’s not a bad thing.

* Substandard footnote: I remember Fred Craddock say this at Kilworth Chapel, the University of Puget Sound, many years ago. It stays with me, and I probably have the words right.

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Wow, I’ve been away from this blog for a year. Ever since I was appointed last summer to Tracyton, in fact!

So, here’s the next Bird’s Eye View, snipped from Bing Maps, for your contest.

It’s a United Methodist location in the Pacific Northwest Conference. I knew nothing about it until today, so maybe it’s news to you, too. It’s good news, though!

What's the UM connection?

What’s the UM connection?

To find the view, open Bing Maps, go to the area you want to look at, and  click “Bird’s Eye” on the menu bar just above the map. When you find the right location, zoomed-in, you should see this image on the big screen. Now, click the Envelope icon in the upper right corner of the page (“Share”) to get the address of the view, and put the link in a comment below, in this blog, along with the name of what we’re looking at, and you’ll gain immortality, at least for a while, in cyberspace.


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[Note: This would have become the script surrounding my Rules Committee report to the session of Annual Conference last Sunday — but we were running late, so I just posted this — a not-quite-finished draft — and announced that anybody interested could read it here.]

Bishop, following Diana Butler Bass’s teaching Friday, on the shift from conceiving of what we do in the Religious category of Rules, to the Spiritual category of Practices, we may want to be looking at re-naming and re-tasking the Conference Rules Committee as the Conference Practices Group.

Words & Names matter. But as a friend reminded me the other day, sometimes we change the name of something, or craft a statement – or a rule – and think we’ve accomplished something. No, the best we do by renaming is to point toward an accomplishment that may come to be.

Yesterday the sixty-some clergywomen honored Bishop Mary Ann Swenson with the Ruth Award, and spoke of its history, an award given to women “standing before us, making us strong, lending their wisdom to help us along,” an award named after the first recipient, Ruth Steach. She stood before us as a Conference in so many ways, but I remember her best as the chairperson of the Rules Committee, delivering the committee’s work with clarity and grace, and trusting the body to do with it what it thought best.

So yesterday afternoon I gave Ruth a call. She lives right here, in Kennewick, and doesn’t get out much, but was interested to hear that Annual Conference was meeting here, and that we were thinking of her, holding her still as a model of faithful service and witness.

The Rules are a skeletal part of the body, which exist to give language & clarity to our expectations of our common life of this community over time. The rules should not be the limiting factor of our life, the lines outside which we must never color, so much as the frame on which the vitality can grow.

Sometimes our skeletons get too rigid: flexibility and motion are impeded instead of enhanced. It ought to be easier to fix stiff, worn-out or calcified rules than it is to treat stiff, worn-out or calcified joints.

So we have several items to work through, that describe practices we may decide to keep, together, over the unforeseeable future. This year, none of them are radical changes, some are tweaks, some are clarifications. It’s our intention that these enable the Conference to live and move and have lively being.


The changes we have worked on today are relatively minor; we are just off of GC, and were expecting that drastic changes at the denominationwide level might have made tweaks irrelevant, and undone any deep change we might have attempted.

Our rules are long. Our structure has become byzantine. We are not a Simple Church. One of these times, it might be good to do a complete Rules Audit, ask how each element serves the mission, and how each element distracts from the mission. I expect it won’t be this year; the work of the Committee this year is likely to be about continuing to clarify what’s unclear, to repair the worn-out, and … this year’s complication … to respond to whatever General Conference DID do, so that our rules are in conformity with the 2012 Discipline. But one of these times … I think we’ll be ready to make profound change, more than tweaks and patches and trendy names.

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