Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Flight #1 Has Landed

I have been in Western Jurisdictional meetings here in Portland, Oregon since Friday last week. It's been a long weekend of meetings. Fruitful and productive, of course. But long.

We ended yesterday (Monday) late afternoon and I found myself with a lot of free time before my flight late this afternoon. Here's how I filled it: I slept-in a little, got caught-up with emails, made necessary phone calls and... went for a long run! There's nothing like a nice, long run to decompress after a long weekend of meetings.

And it did just that- it helped me decompress. Runs always have that effect on me. That's one of the reasons why I run. It clears my head. It allows me to organize random thoughts. It helps me crystallize ideas. It helps me reflect. And that's why I am cranky on days when I don't get a run in.

On today's run, I followed a trail that was parallel to the Willamette River on my right and the Portland International Airport on my left. Mid-run, I found a fork on the trail and decided to turn left as my sense of bearing suggested that that would take me back to my hotel. As I rounded the bend, the trail straightened out again for about 100 feet before a sharp 90 degree turn to the left. What caught my attention was that the airport runway was down the trail, perfectly lined-up.

As I ran down, I imagined myself being a pilot lining up my plane for landing. As coincidence would have it, a plane suddenly roars behind me getting ready to land. I stopped and pulled out my phone. I had to take a picture!

After the photo-op, I made my way down the rest of the trail and into the 90 degree turn. Then the idea for this blog struck me. Like I said, great thoughts and ideas come to me when I run.

I reflected on the scene I just saw: a plane landing. Beginning tonight, my family and I are going on a much needed vacation and time away. I have served one year as Superintendent of the Alaska United Methodist Conference. Today, I felt like I have successfully landed my inaugural flight.

"Flight #1 has landed!", I said to myself as I ran the trail back. I looked back and reflected on the past year. It was a new rhythm of ministry that stretched me in so many ways. It was a blessed year of getting to know people in our different ministry settings all across the conference and seeing the great things happening in those communities in the name of Jesus. It was a year of saying goodbye to colleagues and welcoming new ones. It was a year of connecting for mission and ministry. It wasn't all smooth flying, for there were turbulent skies of conflict and trying situations. But overall, its been a great first year and I thank all of you who were on this maiden voyage with me. Today, I celebrate God and you. "Flight #1 has landed. Thanks be to God!"

But now, I need to take a break for a while. The plane needs to be cleaned. It needs to be checked to make sure it is safe to fly again. It needs refueling. The pilot and crew need to rest. The next flight plans need to be drawn up. Thank you for giving me and my family time and space to relax and rest. And when I get back, I hope that you will join me for "Flight #2 with non-stop service to God and God's people in Alaska and beyond."

Your fellow disciple,

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Passions for the UMC in Alaska

Photo credit: Rev. Jim Doepken
I have been asked by many to reprise my first Superintendent's address in my blog so they can review and share it in their local churches. I will do that. In fact my plan is to dedicate a blog post for each of the six points I focused on. But that series will have to wait until I get back from vacation in August. For now, let me give you an abridged version for you to start reflecting on.

In my address I shared six areas I am really passionate about in my ministry with you as your Superintendent. These were born out of a year of "walking" the conference; a year of listening to your stories, dreams and visions; a year of getting to know each church, each context and each ministry setting. I purposefully resisted casting a vision for leadership until I had gotten to know the conference a little bit deeper. These six areas come out of our shared dreams and visions. They are areas I will hold myself accountable to you, you to me and us to God.

So here are my six passions for the UMC in Alaska:

I challenge us to identify and engage our mission fields. Who are the people in our neighborhoods that God is calling us to reach? What is your mission field and how are we engaging it? What are the partnerships we have forged with different groups in your community?

I challenge us to cultivate a culture of genuine welcome. How are we welcoming the "other" into our midst? How are we truly restoring and keeping the Sacred Circle that includes everyone and shuns no one? How can we continue to draw the circle wider so that "all" really means "all"?

I challenge us to intentionally live a culture of discipleship. Because it is our mission to make disciples, we ask the question: how are disciples made in our churches? What is your church's discipling model?

challenge us to allow a culture of experimentation and innovation in our ministry settings, realizing that many of the  methods and ways we are used to aren't working anymore. What's an experiment, an innovation; what's something creative that you are doing in your churches this year? How can we foster a healthy culture that permits experimentation and even failure?

I challenge us to foster a culture of call. We need to be in the business of raising-up leaders, both clergy and lay, for our Alaska churches. How are we creating a culture of call in our local churches and ministry settings? How are we encouraging and nurturing people who have a call to ministry or are discerning one?

I challenge us to recover our culture of connection that's in our DNA as Methodists. Isolation is our reality in Alaska and so we need to be intentional about keeping connections with one another. How are we being intentional about connecting with others in the conference? What are the stories we need to share across the connection?

These are my six passions for the UMC here in Alaska. When  I go around for Charge Conferences this year, I will be receiving your paperwork (which we will try to streamline and get rid of duplication). But that's just your "homework". What I'd really want us to focus on during our time together is your "term project" which will be along the lines of these six passions. I would like these six areas to drive our conversation and our ministry moving forward.

Let me end the same way I ended my address, with a quote from Steve Jobs:

"The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

Our mission as United Methodists is to "make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." May we be people who are "crazy" enough to think we can transform the world, beginning here in our great state of Alaska.

Your fellow disciple,

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


I ran a marathon here in Anchorage a couple of weeks ago. In the two weeks that followed the race, I have only ran a total of seven miles. I've given my body time to rest and recover. Today, I plan to lace up my shoes and hit the trails once again. My next race is in less than 6 weeks and I have to train. But I surely enjoyed the time-in-between. Now I feel that both my body and my mind are ready to run again!

Summers are typically times-in-between in the lives of churches. This is a time when things slow down; when Sunday schools and choirs take a break; when worship services are combined; when meetings are more spaced-out. And while one may argue that ministry and mission doesn't really stop, that the need is always there and that summers present rich and unique opportunities to reach out to our communities (i.e. VBS, Summer Camp etc.), the reality is that everyone, church people included, need times-in-between to rest and renew. The work of ministry doesn't stop but we can and need to slow it down on a regular basis or risk being burnt-out. Our bodies, hearts, minds and souls need to rest and recover.

Jesus modeled this rhythm of rest and renewal in his ministry. He took breaks, solitary retreats and times to just hang out with good friends. He withdrew from the crowds and took naps when he needed to. He paid attention to his body, mind and soul and took intentional steps in self-care.

As a local church pastor, my ministry rhythms were always guided by the Christian year and the church calendar. The peaks of ministry were the season of Advent with its climax at Christmas and the season of Lent with its climax at Easter. And of course, there's the fall kick-off, the stewardship campaign, Baptism of our Lord, Pentecost and other special Sundays. From my experience, while I enjoyed the peaks of ministry, I always looked forward to the summers and times-in-between and have always been blessed with churches and parishioners who have given me time and space to recreate and renew.

After a year as superintendent, I've found that the peaks in this ministry are dictated by a totally different rhythm. The high intensity times for us in the conference office are Charge Conference season (which stretches from October to mid-February), our Fall and Winter Meetings, and Annual Conference. I would add, after going through my first one in this role, that Annual Conference is the Christmas and Easter of conference superintendency in terms of intensity and workload. It takes a lot out of your conference staff. And while work really doesn't stop, we have intentionally dialed it down after Annual Conference to give us time and space to breathe and recover before Charge Conference season comes upon us once again. I also look forward to our family vacation later this month.

I hope you, too, are giving yourself time and space to rest, recover and recreate. I hope you are allowing that blessing for others as well. Enjoy your time-in-between!

Your fellow disciple,