Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#pray4gc2016

In May 10-20, 2016, United Methodists from all around the world will gather in Portland, Oregon for General Conference, the highest policy-making body of the United Methodist Church. Once every four years, delegates elected by their respective annual conferences gather together for two weeks of worship, legislation and holy conferencing to determine the denomination's future direction, consider revisions to church law, and approve plans and budgets for church-wide programs (Read more about it here). This year's highlighted topics include: the church's stance on homosexuality; proposed changes in church structure; major changes for clergy and bishops; and proposals on social justice issues (Read a summary here).

It is very important work that needs our support and our prayers. I invite you to pray for General Conference 2016. Here are some of the ways you can do that:

Pray for our Alaska Delegation
This month, we have highlighted each member of the delegation and their personal prayers for General Conference in our weekly prayer email. I hope you prayer for us would not stop there. Please continue to hold us in prayer for this very important work we will be, and in fact are now, engaged in.

Pray for our Volunteers
Our Alaska Conference is sending a team of volunteers to help in the hosting of General Conference. Because there is no one church or group of churches that can provide the staffing to host this big event, all the other Annual Conferences  in the Western Jurisdiction (California-Pacific, California-Nevada, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Desert Southwest, Pacific Northwest and Alaska) are coming together to help the Oregon-Idaho Conference. Our team will be joining volunteers from those conferences in showing radical hospitality to our guests from the other parts of the United Methodist Connection. 

First Sundays: Join the whole Greater Northwest Area in prayer
Every first Sunday of the month from March to June, we are coming together as an Episcopal area to pray for General Conference, specifically as it relates to our being hosts. The vision is that as we in the Greater Northwest gather around the Lord's table in our respective communities of faith, we would also come together in prayer for ourselves as we welcome the rest of the global United Methodist family to our common table. More information and resources will be shared about this but here are the themes for each month's first Sunday:

  • March: focus on the general issues that will come to our common table
  • April: focus on our guests and the global nature of the church
  • May: focus on being hosts at the table
  • June: focus on the work of the global church moving forward

February 13 Prayer Vigil: Join the whole UMC in prayer
A prayer vigil for General Conference is now happening (Read about it here). Each annual conference in the whole global connection has been assigned a day in this 131-day prayer vigil that began on December 31, 2015 and will continue until May 9, 2016.

Our Alaska Conference has been given the 13th of February. We have divided the day (24 hours) into 15-minute timeslots and invite you to sign-up. We have designed an online sign-up (click here) to facilitate this process. There you can see which timeslots are already spoken for. If you have problems with the online sign-up, please contact Crystal at the conference office. It is our hope that each slot would be filled and that for those 24 hours assigned to us, we would be linking arms with the rest of our sisters and brothers all around the global UMC in prayer.

#pray4gc2016
In his latest blog (read it here), Bishop Grant Hagiya shared the vision revealed to him while praying for General Conference. It was a vision of hope and a way forward for the UMC. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would move in great and mysterious ways as the Church gathers in Portland. It is interesting to note that the Sunday in the middle of General Conference is Pentecost. I pray that we would all make ourselves available to the moving of the Spirit and open to the ways in which God is calling us forward as a church.

Would you join me and others in prayer?

Your fellow disciple,

Carlo



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

By a Different Road

"And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road." (Matthew 2:12, NRSV)

On the eve of celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), I reflect on this verse that closes the story about the journey of the wisemen from the East. I've always been struck by how this verse is so appropriate for the beginning of a New Year.

A common practice during these early days of a New Year is the making of New Year's resolutions. These are promises we make primarily to ourselves but also to others, to make amends, clean up our act, take off on the right foot, change for the better, and start anew.

I love the musical definition of resolution: it is the "progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance." To resolve a chord is to move from clashing notes to harmony. Now, dissonance is defined as "the lack of agreement or consistency" between the beliefs one holds or between one's actions and one's beliefs. So when there is dissonance in one’s life, resolution is called for to move from inconsistency to harmony.

A survey done by the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology in December of 2012 showed that only 45% of Americans usually make New Year's Resolutions. 17% do it infrequently and 38% absolutely never make them. Of the people who do make resolutions, only 8% are successful in achieving them. 49% have infrequent success. Only 24% always fail in their resolutions. 75% of resolutions are kept through the first week; 71% past two week; 64% past one month; 46% past six months.

I could go on but I think we could see the trend… 

So why make them, we might ask, when we seem to be just setting ourselves up for failure when we do? A quick google search of tips on how to make good on New Year’s Resolutions, would give us an assortment of approaches and advices from various fields – medical, psychological, managerial, political. 

I’d like to offer a spiritual, faith-based voice to fulfilling the promises we make to ourselves every year. And it starts by realizing that making New Year’s Resolutions or even resolutions throughout the year is a call from God. We are called to make resolutions and go "by another road."

Consider the story of the Magi. Their experience of the Christ Child was so profound that it caused a dissonance, an inconsistency in their hearts, prompting them not to return to Herod but to go forth by another road.

Consider the dissonance in your own life as you begin this New Year. Consider the dissonance created by your everyday experience of Emmanuel, God with us, God with you. Perhaps God is calling us to pay attention to that "clashing of notes" in our lives and seek to resolve the inconsistency and move towards harmony.

What is that path, that thing, that place, that lifestyle, that habit, that attitude which you are being called not to return to anymore in this New Year?

In what areas of our lives are we being called individually as to take different roads?

In what ways are we being called corporately and communally as couples, families, churches and communities of faith to abandon former roads and follow new ones?

Or perhaps we are being called to blaze new trails...

We've heard it said that "change is painful but it is necessary." There will be many changes this year in our Alaska Conference: Pastoral moves; Leadership changes; Churches right-sizing and moving to the next stages in their life cycles; Transitions; New ventures. In many ways, these changes will be painful. But they are necessary. They are the different roads we are called to take.

The six things I brought forth at Annual Conference and again to every Church/Charge Conference (Engage, Welcome, Disciple, Risk, Call, Connect) call for a shift in our culture as United Methodists here in Alaska. These were born out of a dissonance I observed and discerned from our individual ministry settings as well as our life together as a conference. These changes, will be painful too. But they, too, are necessary. They are the different roads we are called to take into the future.

What new road is God calling you/us to take in this New Year? How will it be different from the road you/we took to get here? And are you/we willing to follow where the Spirit leads you/us into this New Year and beyond?

The good news is this, that Emmanuel, who gave us the will to do these things will be with us and give us the grace to fulfill them.

May God's "star of wonder, star of light...Guide us to thy perfect light!"

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo