Saturday, May 30, 2009

Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church

As I write this, I am getting ready to go to our annual gathering (hence the name Annual Conference) of United Methodist in each Conference. Our conference is the SC Conference. Each local church, like Bethel, has lay and clergy delegates as their representatives. All clergy are members of the Annual Conference, and each local church has at least one lay delegate. Depending on the size of the local church, there are more delegates. Bethel has five lay delegates in addition to my associate and me as their representatives.

We do what you might expect. We set a budget for the new year. Because of economic issues in our state, we are going to set a budget with a huge decrease. District Superintendents are taking a 4% decrease in salaries, and The Methodist Center in Columbia may see as many as four less employees based on the recommended budget. We will also elect officers to fill the positions of leadership that are needed. We will hear reports from Colleges, Retirement Homes, and ministries throughout our Conference and beyond.

We will have Bible Studies and Worship services for our learning and encouragement. We will ordain (actually the Bishop ordains) pastors for service to the church. We will retire those who have reached that age and status. We will remember those who have died since last Annual Conference. At the end of the week, we will hear the Bishop send forth all of us for service. Pastors will be appointed to their place of service for another year.

This year we will debate and vote on 32 amendments to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church. To pass, two thirds majority vote is required from all lay and clergy delegates to every Annual Conference in the whole church. Some amendments simply recommend editorial changes. Others call for a sea change in relationship to the church in the world, in other countries. There is concern (which I share) that a "yes" vote on the so-called "World" amendments may lead to a fragmentation of the United Methodist Church. I will vote "no" on the "world" amendments.

All in all, Annual Conference is a time of fellowship, worship, and planning as we move from one year to another. I will see friends from other churches where I have served. I may even see friends from the church where I grew up. I will see clergy friends from all over the state. And, we will celebrate that God has led through another year.

The first song sung at every Annual Conference since the beginning of Methodism is an old Wesley hymn: "And Are We Yet Alive..." As we have another Annual Conference, my prayer is that God's Holy Spirit will drive our every decision.

Dave Nichols

Friday, May 29, 2009

So, Where's Good News?

As I heard the news about the North Korean testing of missiles this week, I was reminded of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Some of you are old enough to remember that; others of you can read about it. Russia was moving missiles to Cuba in the sixties. Right under our own noses, Cuba would be able to reach Florida with missiles made by the Communists.

Well, Russia is split asunder, into, it seems, a thousand tiny pieces. Though we aren't quite sure where it will all come out over there, we can be sure that Russia is not the world power that it once was, a world power bent on our destruction. Some would say that Russia was just so afraid of us and we, of them, that we and they just kept making more and more nuclear missiles and bombs.

So much has changed since President Kennedy backed the Russians down. Russia has dissolved, sort of, the Berlin Wall came down in the eighties. Northern Ireland has found independence and peace.

But, in recent memory there is still plenty in the world to think about. Terrorism founds its way to our country in 2001. And, now, those pesky North Koreans keep pushing the envelope. Most everybody I know agrees that their leader is nuts. He is threatening to use his missiles on anybody who threatens him.

So, while we are growing toward a kind of "one world", small world, notion, the world is getting more complicated. There's still China, and Iraq, and all that is going on all the time in the Middle East.

It's enough to make even the most faith-filled among us fearful.

What is there to say? Well, the world has always been a fearful and complicated place. Just look at the history of the world and our history. Then, there's the stuff of our own lives: grief, anger, doubt, pain.

So, we pray, as we always do, for our leaders and the leaders of the world. We pray for them wisdom and strength. We pray that God will intervene as he has seemed to do when Russia backed down, and the Berlin Wall fell, and we had the courage to get up from 9/11 and move forward.

Keep in mind, as we do the best we can with diplomacy, that God is at work, sometimes beyond our ability to see, but at work mysteriously. Bad things happen in the world, but God is still at work. We pray and we take some comfort in that.

Scripture teaches us that God is a God of history, that history is HIS story. Trust in the God who is worthy of our trust.

Dave Nichols

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Aldersgate 2

In my previous blog, I said that I would preach on May 24th on John Wesley's Aldersgate experience. On May 24th 1738, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, had a heart-warming experience. I asked what it means for us.

Some say that this was John Wesley's conversion. But, how can we call it conversion when Wesley has been preaching, teaching and living the Christian faith all his life? Now, in his mid-thirties, it seems strange to say that now he comes to Christ after all his previous life in faith. And yet, something does change for Wesley. From here on, he moves out with more courage, often running into resistance from Anglican Church authorities.

He says: "My heart was strangely warmed." I think of this this way. For years, John Wesley thought the right thing in his head, and he did the right things with his hands in ministry. But, his heart was not in it. He, who believed mightily in human effort, now came to a point after years of searching where he received the peace that he wanted. Now, not only were his hands and head involved in ministry, but also his heart.

Some of us Christian Methodists are guilty of giving our heads and our hands to the work of faith while keeping our hearts at bay.

What about you? Is your heart in your faith? Is your heart (love) in what you're believing and doing for Christ?

At Bethel, our hearts are being "strangely warmed" by God's Holy Spirit all the time. Come and see.

Dave Nichols

Friday, May 22, 2009

United Methodists and Aldersgate

Next Sunday, May 24th, is what we United Methodists call Aldersgate Sunday. On May 24, 1738, John Wesley had his "Aldersgate" experience. You have to understand that John Wesley was, as we would say today, tightly wound. He was reared by a mother who taught him everything, including his incredible discipline.

At Oxford, Father Wesley, his brother Charles and others, formed a group that met each week for Bible Study, prayer, mutual accountability and ministry to prisoners and others. John Wesley had it all together except that he lived with the notion that something was missing. He did not have the assurance of his own relationship to God.

He was good at doing the ministry but felt that he did not have within the faith that he wanted so badly. His search took him to America where he served Christ Episcopal Church in Savannah. The pastor a few years ago reminded my Confirmation Class that John Wesley was always an Anglican.

That's true. John Wesley had no problems with the Anglican Church, it's doctrine or practices. He felt the church lacked the love to reach out to the "common" person. In Georgia, Father John fell in love with Sophie Hopkey. She wanted to get married; John did not. So, she married someone else. And, when Sophie came to communion, John refused to serve her. (He was human, you know) This got Father John run out of Georgia.

He slipped up to Charleston under cover of darkness and caught a boat to England. On board ship, there was a terrible storm at sea. John was terrified, but the Moravians on board were calm and peaceful, singing hymns and offering prayers. This further caused John to ask what the Moravians had that he did not. It also led to productive relationships with the Moravians.

So, on May 24th, 1738, John Wesley said that for his devotions that day he read in Mark about the lawyer asking Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus told the lawyer to answer. The lawyer said: "Love God and love your neighbor." Jesus told the lawyer: "You are not far from the Kingdom."

John felt that God was speaking to him. "You are not far from the kingdom." That night, John went, unwillingly, to a meeting of Christians at a meetinghouse on Aldersgate Street in London. While the leader was reading from Luther's Preface to the Romans (pretty dull stuff actually) John was moved. He said: "I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sin, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death."

This was a watershed experience for John Wesley. Now, what he had lived and taught, preached and sought, he experienced within. This was John Wesley's "Heart-warming experience".

United Methodists, whatever their politics or their varied practices, are still a "warm-hearted" people.

What does this mean to us today? I'll try to address that Sunday in my sermon.
Dave Nichols

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Our Greatest Temptation

My text is 2 Corinthians 4:1. Paul, or whoever was messing around with what Paul wrote, said: "Therefore, having this ministry, by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart..." We do not lost heart.

I have preached this text on Sunday morning. I preached it to preachers when I was a District Superintendent. I preached to some elderly residents of a retirement community. I preached to all these people because no matter what our age or whether we are clergy or lay people, this word is for us. "We do not lose heart..."

You see, our greatest temptation as Christians is not sexual stuff, though I certainly have seen my share of preachers who gave in to that. Our greatest temptation is not money, although some certainly have tried that way out. No, our greatest temptation is to lose heart, to give up in the face of the way things are.

I just heard the other day about another church member, a friend, who was laid off just before the time when he would be able to collect his pension at 60. No he has to wait until he's 65. It seems to be the way of the world. When we're young and vibrant and cheaper to employ, all is well. But, many in their fifties are let go.

And, I guess you can understand this in the kind of economy we're in now. But, as Christians this strikes at our faith. We are tempted to lose heart in the face of the way things are.

So, Paul, who was beaten and tried in the courts, who spent time in jail for his faith, could say: "Therefore, since we have this ministry, this day, this life, by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart..."

That really is true. In spite of what we are going through now, we know that nothing lasts forever. In spite of what things seem like now in the world, we know that God is still in control. In spite of whatever adjustments in spending or saving that we need to make, we do not rely only on ourselves. We rely not on our own strength or power or good works, thank God.

We rely on the mercy of God. So, it is good to remember Paul's words: "Since we have been given this ministry, this day, this life by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart..."

We keep heart, we do not give up, because of the mercy and love of God. So, hang in there whatever your pain, God is with you in mercy.

Dave Nichols

Monday, May 18, 2009

For Anyone Who Ever Graduated From Anywhere

This time of year, colleges and high schools are graduating their students. We're even graduating our Child Enrichment Center children this month.

If you've ever graduated from anywhere, you've been subjected to a commencement address of some kind. Usually, the speech is an attempt to speak a word of "wisdom" to the graduating class, who already think they know more than the speaker.

A couple of years ago, Betsy, my daughter, graduated from Citadel with a Masters Degree. We went down for the weekend. The commencement address was interminable. The man giving it was a great man; that was obvious. But, he was dull. Now you might argue that dull or not, the grads aren't really listening. Many of the parents were napping.

Hey, I'm a public speaker of sorts; so, I'm not going to let cynicism win out here. I remember that my high commencement speaker said this: "50% of us are willing to work hard; and the other 50% are willing to let us." The point being: work hard.

I remember the words from my Newberry College address which said that we learned what we learned to help others.

I ran across a wonderful article in a recent USA Today. Cristina Negrut claims to have surveyed some 700 speeches on the internet, and only about 20 were inspiring. Her website is

Here are the top then quotes that she listed. They are pretty good wisdom for grads and the rest of us, too. See what you think?

1. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers, Stanford, 2005.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

2. Jerry Zucker, film director/producer, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2003.

It doesn't matter that your dream came true if you spent your whole life sleeping.

3. Marc S. Lewis, clinical psychology professor, University of Texas Austin, 2000.

There are times when you are going to do well, and times when you're going to fail. But neither the doing well, nor the failure is the measure of success. The measure of success is what you think about what you've done. Let me put that another way: The way to be happy is to like yourself and the way to like yourself is to do only things that make you proud.

4. David Foster Wallace, novelist, Kenyon College, 2005.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

5. John Walsh, author and art historian, Wheaton College, 2000.

Do one thing at a time. Give each experience all your attention. Try to resist being distracted by other sights and sounds, other thoughts and tasks, and when it is, guide your mind back to what you're doing.

6. Michael Uslan, film producer, Indiana University, 2006.

You must have a high threshold for frustration. Take it from the guy who was turned down by every studio in Hollywood. You must knock on doors until your knuckles bleed. Doors will slam in your face. You must pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and knock again. It's the only way to achieve your goals in life.

7. David L. Calhoun, businessman, Virgina Tech, 2005.

The lust for learning is age-independent.

8. Earl Bakken, businessman, University of Hawaii, 2004.

By all reckoning, the bumblebee is aerodynamically unsound and shouldn't be able to fly. Yet, the little bee gets those wings going like a turbo-jet and flies to every plant its chubby little body can land on to collect all the nectar it can hold. Bumblebees are the most persistent creatures. They don't know they can't fly, so they just keep buzzing around.

9. Bradley Whitford, actor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006.

We all go through life bristling at our external limitations, but the most difficult chains to break are inside us.

10. Woody Hayes, football coach, Ohio State University, 1986.

You'll find out that nothing that comes easy is worth a dime. As a matter of fact, I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face. Never.

Dave Nichols

Saturday, May 16, 2009

More on the 32 Amendments to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church

Previous blog is about the 32 amendments to the constitution of the United Methodist Church that will be voted on by United Methodists at each Annual Conference this June. United Methodists meet annual (once a year) in each conference on matters of ministry, mostly budget and nominations. This year they will vote on the amendments.

In the previous blog I commented on them all in general. There is one more that needs comment. One amendment asks that we be more inclusive and list gender among those that we cannot cannot discriminate against in terms of membership in our church. Now, I don't know anybody who has been turned down for membership because they were a man or woman, do you?

In my opinion this amendment grows out of an attempt to further limit the authority of a United Methodist Pastor to decide who joins a church. I don't remember ever turning down anyone who wanted to join the church except a few. Those who refused to stand in front of the church and take the vows of belief and membership. Some did not want to profess faith in Christ; imagine that.

Once I got a call from a man who wanted to join my church. He was doing it for his wife, whom he said suffered from depression. He said: "She is happier when she is in church." So, he asked me what he and she needed to do. I explained that he could join if he would profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He said: "You mean I have to say I believe something to join." I tried to explain. He passed.

In the Presbyterian Church, prospective members go before the Session. In the Baptist Church, the whole church votes on you. In the United Methodist Church, the pastor is the only one who has such authority.

Again, I don't know of anybody rejected because of gender. We already are open to those who want to join. We don't need an amendment.

As a United Methodist pastor I value my authority in terms of church membership. And, I appreciate the trust of the church in me to make these decisions. So, again, I encourage you to vote "no" on all amendments except the one giving voting rights to Local pastors and Associate Members of the Annual Conference.

Dave Nichols

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Amendments to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church

As Annual Conferences gather for the meetings this summer, delegates will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" on 32 amendments to our constitution of the United Methodist Church. There are a variety of amendments that on the surface sound rather innocuous. Some call for us to be more of a worldwide church. We have operated for some time as if we (the US church) were a the most important United Methodist. In recent years, the church in America has declined, and the church in Africa and other places has caught fire with growth. So, say these amendments we ought to acknowledge this with a change in structure.

Some other amendments are an attempt to create "regional" conferences. One reason is so that we can get away from the use of the words "central conference". I certainly understand this. Central Conferences were conferences for African American United Methodists before integration and merger. Regional conferences may form, say some of the amendments, without accountability to the United Methodist Church's Discipline.

One amendment gives voting rights to Local Pastors and Associate Members of the Annual Conference, generally pastors who are serving under appointment without a seminary degree. They could, if the vote is yes, vote for Clergy delegates for General and Jurisdictional Conferences. I will vote yes on this one. The are pastors and should be given the right to vote on these matters.

I will vote no on the other amendments. While the idea of being a global church sounds good, and the idea of regional conferences sounds OK, my concern is that the effect will in fact further fragment us as a church.

I believe that we would open up a possibility of different conferences and regional bodies and we would lose any common accountability and mission. This would follow what is going on in the Episcopal Church now. A friend of mine, an Episcopal Clergy person, says that they are "bleeding" members. He says that "they are leaving in droves." If you like what is going on in the Episcopal Church right now, then vote yes on all the other amendments.

Our prayer is that God will give us insight into these matters, that we will all have a fruitful debate about the issues, and that we will make the right decision. Take my viewpoint for what it's worth.

Dave Nichols

Monday, May 11, 2009

Methodists and Education

This morning I wrote a newsletter article about someone who is a "son" of Bethel, Spartanburg. Dr. D. Moody Smith who is the George Washington Ivey Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Duke Divinity School is going to preach at Bethel on May 24th and lecture on the Gospel of John on May 25th. Many know Moody Smith as an expert on the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John. I have benefited from having him as a teacher at seminary and also as a leader of seminars and lectures across the church. My Associate is Moody Smith's son and through that connection I received a copy of his latest book, inscribed. I treasure it because it came from Moody himself.

As I was writing my newsletter column I was thinking about the Methodist connection to education. Remember that Methodism began as a movement at Oxford University. John Wesley, our founder, was an Anglican Priest, and a professor at Oxford. While John Wesley professed to be a man of "one book", the Bible, of course. He was rich in his study of the classics.

We United Methodists inherited John Wesley's love for study and reflection and education. While we have "warm hearts", we also value informed minds. We United Methodists are not afraid of thinking. Our four guides in our faith are: scripture, tradition, experience and reason. Scripture is absolutely primary for us. But, we also believe in study and understanding as gifts of God.

In most cases, find people who are really concerned about education and you'll find United Methodists. While education won't save your soul, necessarily, education is a way to improve and enhance life. Education is something that we all value.

It's not about money. It's about being educated so as to be able to better live and serve others. The Baccalaureatte speaker at my college graduation, though a Lutheran, spoke like a Methodist. He said: "You didn't learn English for your own sake; you learned it so that you could serve others. Everything that you learned here was learned so that you could live and serve others faithfully..."

In our town alone, we have Wofford College and Spartanburg Methodist College, two good examples of Methodism and education working out faith in the world. Scripture calls us to love God with heart, and soul, and mind.

Dave Nichols

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Good Grief

Everyone experiences grief. You may have experienced grief when your first puppy died, or you moved to another place from the home where you grew up. You may have experienced grief when you realized that things were changing around you, or your mother died.

However and wherever you have lived, you have experienced grief. Grief is what it feels like when you lose something. One of my teachers long gone used to say that all grief is the same stuff: no given moment lasts forever.

Things change, time passes, and every person moves on in time. I have watched some parents go through high school graduation with their children. After it's all over and the child is gone to college or somewhere, the parents are left to figure out life after children.

Or, I have seen people lose a parent. The parent may be 90 years old but still it hurts. Life after parents are gone is different. And, the first reaction is to feel the pain, the grief, of the end of something.

I've been feeling something lately. I wasn't quite sure what. But, then it hit me this morning, as Mary and I were talking, our middle daughter, Frances, is getting married. Everything about that is wonderful. It makes us remember our own wedding joy nearly 30 years ago. It reminds us of where we are in our own lives. The boy she marrying is a great guy. We couldn't be happier.

And yet, grief slips up on us. It is the end of something.

Just recently, I was reading a review of a book about history. It highlighted what people went through when the years went from 999 to 1,000. We saw a bit of it when the years went from 1999 to 2000. there were all kinds of predictions of "the end" of things.

The book pointed out that what was thought to be the end of things turned out to be the beginning of something new. That's true of grief, too. As we wade through it or live through it, faith tell us that God is always doing something new. An end means the beginning of something new and different. Even death, for the Christian is a door to something new.

Dave Nichols

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lukewarm- Neither Hot Nor Cold- Revelation 3: 15

Click on above picture to see enlarged. I thought this was really funny. We Christians, maybe we human beings, tend to run lukewarm, especially over time. We tend to grow neither hot nor cold toward our faith.

Just a thought!
Dave Nichols

Monday, May 4, 2009

What Matters Most- 6- Justice

In this series- "What Matters Most"- I have tried to touch on some of the great commitments that matter. I have also tried to do so with a Christian slant. The last issue in this series, for me, is justice.

Justice is getting what you deserve. Or, to put it another way, justice is equal treatment. That's how we think of it in American society: equal treatment under the law. So, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, is Lady Justice and she is blindfolded. She is meant to dispense justice without regard to what a person looks like- color of skin, disability, gender, wealth, etc. We certainly are not there yet in terms of total justice for all.

Now, one might argue about the things to which a person has a right, but in this country we do argue that.

Christianly, justice is a word that is reserved mainly to talk about justice for the poor. Of all the injustices in the world, scripture seems to say that the worst is how we treat the poor and vulnerable among us. Money seems to be the one dividing line that crosses all races and genders. If you have money, then you can afford to be treated a certain way. If you don't then, you do the best you can.

I know the frustrations with this serving as a pastor. The church is often a place where people look when they are in need. With meagre resources set aside to help those in need, we do the best we can to serve.

The church is called by Jesus to reach out to those "who are least among us". While I get frustrated on the one hand not being able to do as much as I'd like. On the other hand, it's frustrating knowing who is truly needy. There are professionals out there who know just what to do to get to you.

Having said all that, Jesus laid the claim upon us. He even says: "In as much as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me..."

So, if someone is hungry or in need, it's right that they should be able to look to the religious community, to the church for help. We cannot take care of everybody, but we can take care of some and we should. We should do all that we can to help, and feed, and serve those who need most.

Dave Nichols

Comments on Lectionary - Sept. 1

That Jesus would be healing comes at no surprise to any of us. Nor, is it surprising that Jesus is healing on the Sabbath. So, when the re...