Monday, June 18, 2012

Wednesday- Last Day of Annual Conference

Sorry to be so late getting to this. All of the business of Annual Conference was finished on Tuesday by dinner time. So, Wednesday was completely devoted to the Ordination Service and the Appointments of Pastors. The Ordination Service lasted two and one half hours. I always love the Ordination Service. Back in the dark ages, when I was ordained, we had SC Annual Conference in Spartanburg at Wofford College, but the Ordination Service was held at a local church. Of course, Annual Conference was not as big as it is now. I was ordained at the church I'm now service- Bethel UMC. I know exactly where I kneeled that night. It still gives me good bumps to walk into our sanctuary for that reason. To be ordained is to be authorized, set aside, for a specific role in the life of the church, pastor. We ordained deacons and elders. David Smith and I are both Elders. Elders are the pastors in charge of churches. Elders may do the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism and they go where the Bishop sends them. They do not choose their place of service. Deacons are pastors who serve in a number of different roles, from education to mission. They assist Elders in the Sacraments but may not do them alone. Deacons choose their own place of service and the Bishop affirms that as an extension of the ministry of the church. I still have my black and white picture of my Ordination Class hanging in my study at the church. There we are on the same stage that is in our Fellowship Hall now. Wow! Elders are authorized when the Bishop and other Elders put their hands on them and the Bishop says: "Take authority to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. We believe that in all of our services the Holy Spirit is present in power. These who have been called to this ministry are now publicly recognized and given authority to do the work of ministry. I do regret that the service was held on a weekday morning. Many of the people who would have liked to have been there could not be because of work and other obligations. One of our own was commissioned as a Provisional Elder. Drew Martin serves as Associate Pastor at Clover First UMC in Clover, SC. Elders and Deacons are commissioned first and serve two years on trial, or probation, then they become Full Elders and Full Deacons. It is a moving and wonderful service. After the Ordination Service, the appointments are made of Elders and Deacons to their place of service. Copies of all the appointments are handed out and the Bishop then "fixes" the appointments for another Conference year. Sometimes, because of death or some other circumstance, an appointment will have to be changed. The Bishop may appoint a pastor at any time, and often does so in the middle of the year when necessary. As an Elder, it is a wonderful thing to be "sent" into ministry. We are called and the Bishop Sends us. The Bishop carries the authority of the church all the way back to the beginning of Methodism and John Wesley. The Bishop's office and ordination is an unbroken stream of ordination all the say back to the beginning of the whole church. It is a pleasure to serve the great church. What a blessing! Blessings! Dave Nichols

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tuesday at Annual Conference

Tuesday was a good day. We had two lectures by Gil Rendle who talked about the current cultural situation and the church’s response to that. I will talk more about that later. We spent much of the morning recognizing the Pastors who were retiring at this Annual Conference. Over 30 Pastors retired, among them was our own Rev. Harry Hays, who served Bethel here from 1998-2006. Each pastor and spouse was brought forward and congratulated by the Bishop. When they were all recognized, a video presentation was given in which each Pastor gave an answer to some questions. They all told of some significant or humorous moment in their ministry. They all were asked to give advice to young Pastors who are just starting out. And, all of them said they were grateful for the United Methodist Church and their opportunity to serve. We gave them a standing ovation. They represented many years of service. The Retired Pastors and Spouses were then taken to a huge banquet. This Retirement Service is always an important time at Annual Conference. It always is a time filled with mixed feelings. In one way, the call of God does not leave any of the retirees. They all continue to be servants of Christ, just in another capacity. We wish them God’s best and we hope to see some of Larry and Sally here, maybe. The afternoon started with the second of Gil Rendle’s lectures. Then, business was conducted and remarkably, we finished the business of the Annual Conference by dinner time. The budget was passed and nominations were made. In my more than 30 years of ministry, I cannot remember when things have gone as smoothly or peaceably. One moment on Tuesday stood out for me when Rev. Roger Gramling made a speech about the merging of the African American Conference and the Majority Conference in 1972. I was at that Annual Conference to see the merger take place. How much richer have been our relationships and friendships since we merged. Why did it take us until 1972 to finally come together? Blessings! Dave Nichols

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Monday at Annual Conference

Monday morning began with a Service of Holy Communion. We begin every day this way. Then, we spent some time organizing the Conference- electing officers, secretary, parliamentarian, etc. We had some courtesies welcoming us to Florence, SC. On this day, we spent some time presenting the recommended budget, and the proposed nominations of officers for another year or more. These are presented early in the week and then voted on the last day. We heard a report from a Task Force organized since last year to look at the possibility of re-organizing the SC Conference. We have 12 districts in the conference; we are in Spartanburg, of course. Economics, demographic changes, and other things moved some to think that we need to reduce the number of districts. The Task Force asked for another year to make sure they had all the information in hand before making a recommendation to the Annual Conference. The trend is toward reduction, I would say. Epworth Children’s Home made a report and we heard a few other reports and then adjourned for lunch. We came back at 2pm for our Memorial Service. This is the time when we honor and remember those who have died since last year: pastors and pastor’s spouses. Families of those who have gone on come to join in the celebration and memories. It is always a sad but victorious time. Over 30 persons were remembered. There is always someone whom I knew well on this list. The Sermon was preached by Dr. Charles Johnson, Greenville District Superintendent, who is retiring this Annual Conference. He preaching on the subject: “Their Works Follow Them.” We took a break to greet the families and others and then came back in session at around 3pm. Then, we heard a lecture/message from Gil Rendle, a church consultant who talked about the current situation that we are facing in the church. He talked about the way in which we have moved from being an established part of the culture to being on the fringe of the culture. That’s true of all Christian groups, but especially mainline Protestant churches of which the United Methodist Church is one. He talked about see the current situation not as a problem to solve but as an opportunity to work with. He spoke on Monday night and will speak again for us before we leave. I will share more of his thoughts, which are not unique to him, later. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Off to Annual Conference, Sunday

We left Spartanburg at 2pm or so, Phillip Stone and I. Our other Lay Delegates are Art and Jean Hartzog, and Shirley and Charlie Hudson. Phillip and I got here around 4:30 and we rushed to register. I went off to my Clergy Session at 5pm where we voted on pastors at all levels. Our own Drew Martin from Bethel, is being commissioned this year as a Probationary Elder. David Smith and I are Elders in the church. Drew will serve another three years as a PE and then he will be ordained Elders. Elders preach and administer the Sacraments in the church, and they go where the Bishop sends them. We do not make our own appointments (find our own work). We are sent. At a little afte six we adjourned for dinner and came back for the opening worship service in which Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor preached on the Conference theme: Invitation to a Changed Life. We sang as every Annual Conference has sung from the beginning the same song to open: “And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face; Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace.” It is sung to the tune of “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”, and was written by Charles Wesley. That was it for Sunday. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Monday, June 4, 2012

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday is that Sunday that comes right after Pentecost. And, likely as not, if you’ve been around the church at all, you’ve sung to the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. You’ve worshiped and served, bathed in the beauty and wonder of the Trinity. I am always running into someone who will say: “Why don’t we just do away with Trinity and just talk about God; is it enough just believe in God?” No. That’s what our world wants us to do. They want to simplify everything down to its minimum, even God. In the world’s story, God is the creator who made it all like the great watchmaker and set it in motion, leaving everything up to us. It’s all up to us. God stepped back and let it run. Or, we worship the god of the philosophers. God is an idea, a concept. God is the “ground of all being”. God is “ultimate being”. Take your pick. In philosophy, which I love, God only gets to be an idea or concept. God is nice to think about. The idea of God is a concept around which we organize our lives and our world, but God, this god, cannot actually do anything. It’s, again, all up to us. The Trinity is about a God who is so big that we cannot get our minds around him. We cannot understand God completely. The Gospel for Trinity Sunday (year b) is John 3, the story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, is supposed to know everything. But, he is in the dark and comes to Jesus, Mr. Light, to learn. Jesus tells him that he must be born again, from above, to see the Kingdom of God. It’s about the Spirit. It’s something God does in and through us. It’s God’s doing. Nicodemus asks: “How can this be?” Jesus says: “Now you’ve got it…God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” Augustine says that God has “plentitude”. God is filled full of love and grace. God is so effusive that the Trinity is always in movement in the world. Augustine sees this in flowers. He says that we would have been happy, maybe, with one or two flowers. Not God. God creates thousands of varieties of flowers. Don’t reduce this god down to something we can understand. No. C. S. Lewis says that when you pray you are seeking God, knowing that you are seeking God because God has moved you within to see God. If you’re a Christian, he says, you know that everything that you know about God was given to you in Jesus Christ, and that he prays for you and is standing beside you when you pray. You see, says C.S. Lewis, God is the thing he is seeking, and God is the one motivating him to seek. And, God is the one who stands close, painfully close, to the one praying. God is also the road, the way, to the future which is God, in all and through all. Got it? Not hardly. It’s just that God is so big, so large, so effusive that we cannot trim him down to our size. God has not left everything to us, but is alive and working in us, in and through the church, in and through the world, to do what he set out to do, to make the Kingdom of God. Thanks be to God. 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...