Our Interconnected Life

I was doing a training hike the other day on Grandfather Mountain and stopped to take this picture.  I love this part of the trail but this week I was particularly struck by the image of the roots so interwoven and interconnected with one another- so you can IMG_3871hardly tell which tree the roots belong to.  On the heels of Annual Conference where we were reminded of our connectional system and our collective work as United Methodist churches in the western half of North Carolina in combination with this liminal time between serving Centenary and Boone UMC this part of the trail gave me pause.  I was reflecting how the tree trunks represent our various churches and the roots represent the people who make up the church.  A few hours later before I got down off the trail it started to rain and on my return trip the rain wetting the exposed roots reminded me of God’s love showering down on us all saturating us with the much needed Living Water.  There was something very comforting with this image.

In a time where all aspects of our lives seem to be dividing and choosing sides this interconnected image serves as a powerful counter to current culture.  And even when we feel a sense of disconnect with one another, this reminds us that our purpose and our work can only happen when we are interconnected with one another.  We are so much stronger together supporting one another and growing deep with each other.  To disconnect or tear apart a portion of the root system only weakens the tree’s foundation or our churches.  And more importantly no one person or no one church stands in isolation.  God sees our work as collective.  We are more powerful impacting our communities together than any one church could ever be alone.

While my personal roots are feeling a bit dislodged at the moment (I’m up to my ears in bubble wrap and moving boxes!) there is great comfort in remembering that my root system is merely shifting a bit in the dirt that surrounds me and soon I will be intertwining with new people and growing deeper together supporting another part of God’s Kingdom.

And the roots keep growing and new connections are made.  Somehow seeing things from that 30,000 level perspective makes it a bit easier to pack up and move.  The journey continues.  Just in new places and with new faces.  The Kingdom work continues, just expands to new places with new faces.  My personal experience only multiplies, in a new environment experiencing new adventures.  But I remember the ways life intersected the past few years with great people, doing great Kingdom work teaching me powerful lessons along the way.  And hopefully I shared a few helpful insights with others as well.

May the Living Water continue to shower down on us all, wherever our roots happen to be growing.  May we continue to live interconnected lives appreciating the relationships we have around us in the moment.  May we continue to selflessly support and care for one another so the whole root system may be blessed.  May our roots grow ever deeper in a life richly filled with the love of Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Go Where I Send Thee

I need to write this blog now while my heart is filled with joy and a smile is on my face because that is not where my heart typically is these days.  Last night I attended Centenary’s annual Chancel Choir picnic and they surprised me with an awesome gift.  They purchased a new anthem in my honor called Go Where I Send Thee by André Thomas.

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Beautiful cover of the anthem Centenary’s choir purchased in my honor.

The song is a spiritual about sending people out to tell others about Jesus. What a meaningful and thoughtful gift that so beautifully capatures the heart of my ministry.

It is always hard to say goodbye.  Because June 10 is my last Sunday in worship and June 11 is my last day in the office before I take a few days to rest and prepare for my next appointment, it’s time to say goodbye.  As I was packing boxes this week it hit me.  What I have known in my mind to be true for quite a while became real and tangible to my heart.  As I experienced all of the “lasts” this week, nostalgia set in.  My last staff meeting, my last worship planning meeting, my last typical day in the office, packing up the last of my books, my last baptism, my last time presiding over communion here, as I had my last meeting for coffee with both a church member and a member of the community outside of the church, I was acutely aware each time that it was the “last”.  As I stood at the back of the auditorium last week and listened to the Rejoice jazz band play for the last time, my heart felt like it lodged in my throat.  It will be a miracle this week if I get through worship without choking up as I hear the choir for the last time and as I preach in that majestic sanctuary for the last time.  Yep, saying goodbye stinks.

Yet, it is a part of life.  It is certainly part of the typical United Methodist preacher’s life.  We itinerate, so over time, we learn to leave well and the importance of saying goodbye.  But that doesn’t make it easy for us.

I am very excited to be going to Boone UMC in a few weeks.  It is a good church filled with great people who I look forward to meeting and doing ministry with.  But right now, my heart is filled with sadness at saying goodbye to friends I had planned to serve beside a little longer and that I wanted to get to know much better over time.  I look at plans unfinished and dreams unfulfilled and have to entrust them into the able hands of others to see their completion knowing I will not be the one that gets to do that.  But that’s the thing about God.  It often takes many hands to help fulfill God’s big dreams and I know that.  I look back on years of ministry where the persons following me come in and take the work that I have been about and steps even more boldly into God’s future with those churches.  I look forward to seeing where God takes Centenary!

So let us set aside our tears of sadness at saying goodbye and prepare for new adventures that God has in store for us.  Let us remember that we are all part of a larger community of believers that are traveling down the same path with Jesus.  Let us trust that God’s greater plans will turn our sorrow in this moment into great joy at some point in the future.  Let us learn from what has transpired, whatever lessons that God intends for us to learn.  Where there has been hurtfulness, let us not repeat it in the future.  Where there has been confusion, may clarity come.  Where there has been brokenness, may the healing begin.  Where there is joy, may it come not at the expense of others.  Where there is change, may there also be hope for a bright new future.

Because I know God has amazing plans in store for you.  I know that to the very core of my being. And I also know that God is not easily thwarted so one way or another, those plans will be realized.  Whatever way I have been able to be a part of those plans for Centenary, I will be forever grateful.  I cherish my time with you and all of the many lessons I have learned and the wonderful people I have met here in Winston-Salem.  But now, my friends, it is time to go where God sends me.  There is another flock to shepherd.  Another community to get to know and love.  Another place to do God’s Kingdom work.  New friends to meet.  And you have a new and capable shepherd coming who will love and lead you.  And of course, the one Good Shepherd will continue to lead all of us.  And there is great comfort in that.

Now more than ever, I pray for Grace and Peace for you,

Lory Beth

Important Friends

This Sunday I have the privilege of guest preaching at St. Paul UMC in Winston-Salem.  I am so thankful I have the chance to say goodbye to these wonderful friends I have made while at Centenary but to also encourage the continued growth in the relationship between St. Paul and Centenary.  St. Paul is our sister church east of Hwy 52, its members predominantly African-American.  Their senior minister, Rev. Donald Jenkins, and I knew each other as colleagues before a few years ago but we have become good friends the past 2 years, for which I am thankful.

Many of you know the story of how our two churches began to start connecting with one another but I would like to share it one last time for those who have not heard.

It was Sunday, July 17, 2016 and after worship had ended at Centenary we found out there had been yet another racially charged police shooting.  We had already had a prayer vigil for the rash of police shootings of African-American men in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, MN and  police officers killed in Dallas all the first week of July.  Then on July 17 three police officers in Baton Rouge were shot and killed.  Staff looked at each other and wondered what can we do to help our people make sense of the escalating racially charged violence all across our country.

About 1:30 I decided to call Donald Jenkins and see if our two churches might somehow come together in a positive way in the midst of these difficult race dynamics playing out before us.  Surely the Church can model a better way.  I was fully expecting to leave a message since I was calling his office phone but Donald miraculously picked up.  He had finished worship at St. Paul and was back in his office packing up to head home.  (Admittedly I had already finished with worship at Centenary, eaten lunch and changed into comfy clothes and was settled at home for some down time that afternoon!)  I remember saying to Donald, “We need your help.”

Our predominantly white and affluent congregation felt helpless in the moment not fully understanding and certainly not knowing how to be helpful in constructive ways.  We as staff were tired of inviting everyone to pray for the victim’s families and pray for our country and pray for our police officers and pray for the African American community.  Prayer clearly wasn’t enough at the moment.

That phone conversation began several face to face meetings with staff from St. Paul

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Joint worship of lament and hope with St. Paul UMC and Centenary in July 2016.  The choirs rocked!

UMC and Centenary UMC as we talked about how we could bring our people together in a meaningful way.  We went on to do a joint worship service at St. Paul’s later that week that brought choirs from both churches together and Donald and I offered Scripture and a few words.  Prayers and readings were done by lay folks.  It was a beautiful worship experience that was filled with hope and a message of love that God’s kingdom was big enough for people of all skin colors to come together and care for one another in the name of Christ.  We might not know one another well let alone trust one another, but as children of God we sure could find common language – especially through music – and worship together.

From there we would go on to plan table dialogues, watch Blood Done Signed My Name together, and enjoy worship opportunities.  We are hoping to get some service projects and a deep dive book study on understanding race differences launched later this fall.  For me, it has been a blessing to have a place where we could start building trust with those different from us and learn the very interesting lesson that maybe the good folks at St. Paul are NOT so different from us.  If we would just invest the time to continue to build the relationship there would be many, many more lessons to learn from one another.

And that has been the beautiful nature of this partnership that Donald and I have watched grow.  It’s true for us personally as well as for our church people.  We have learned from one another – equal playing field.  We have trusted one another and that has been a gift.  When I said to Donald “We need you” I meant it.  Our church folks had (and still do) so much to learn about stereotypes because of skin color.  As hard as it is for white people to talk about, the truth of white privlege is real.  Very real.  While my church was having prayer vigils for the people involved in the shootings across the country, Donald had invited a police officer to come speak to his congregation about how safely to handle when you get stopped by a police officer in your car.  He was sending out videos teaching where to put your hands on the steering wheel as the police officer approached your car.  Our worlds were so different.

As we moved out of the season of racially charged gun violence we were able to catch our breath and begin to focus more on building relationships.  My recent transition has caused a bit of a disruption in some of our planning but we have every intention of continuing to build the bonds between Centenary and St. Paul UMC.

And I for one, will always have my friendship with Donald and the good people of St. Paul I have had the pleasure of getting to know.  And so to be able to preach Sunday, May 27 in that space that meant so much to me that summer night almost 2 years ago where I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God right in my midst, makes my heart soar.

May God continue to find ways to remind us that just maybe, we aren’t so different after all.  We are all children of God.  God loves us more than we can imagine.  We love God with all of our heart.  Now we just have to keep practicing sharing that very same love with one another.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Where’s the Love? Antarctica

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately.  As I watch less and less news because I can’t bear the onslaught of negativity and the next unexpected turn of events I am reminded of my trip to Antarctica.  What does Antarctica have to do with anything?  Bear with me.  For my 40th birthday my husband and I took an amazing trip to Antarctica.  We zoomed around on Zodiac boats looking at beautiful icebergs, playful seals, illusive whales, and my favorite- gregarious penguins.  As we observed the ecosystem and saw how at peace all the creatures were and how few predators aggressively asserted their power I was truly amazed.  The only predators are Leopard Seals and Killer Whales.  Everything else eat plankton.  Everything.  A place with such a minute human footprint on it was one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I’d ever seen.  It was with that realization I made the observation that I was pretty sure when God got fed up with humanity God came to Antarctica.  I still believe it.

I imagine lately, God has spent a great deal of time in Antarctica.  As I see the temperature shift in our country  in the ways we relate with one another I grow deeply sad.  As I see the way some justify what would have historically been unacceptable and immoral behavior as ok for reasons I haven’t figured out yet I shutter. As I see our denomination struggle right now with a multitlude of issues including women in ministry (two ammendments to our United Methodist constitution failed by a thin margin having to do with gender issues) as well as the issue of human sexuality I confess frustration.  As I see the lack of Jesus’ love ethic in our collective treatment of one another, I lament.

For those of us that are Christians, we know that Jesus called us to love God with all of our heart and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  This is the greatest commandment we are to follow.  Jesus doesn’t call us to wait for others to love us first and then we respond in love.  Jesus doesn’t call us to wait and let others treat us fairly before we act out of fairness to others.  Jesus doesn’t call us to wait to be treated with respect before being respectful to others.  And if people don’t act in these ways then we are under no obligation to oblige Jesus’ commandment.  And yet at times it looks as though we let our behavior sink to the lowest common denominator.

What would happen if we truly used Jesus’ directive as our behavioral guidepost?  What if our moral compass was attuned to Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels rather than the loudest voice on our televisions or radio?  What if love truly was at the heart of our response to others.  Better yet, what if the lens that judged how we look at the behavior of our leadership in all realms of our lives as well as the strangers we encounter in our lives was love.

While we can’t control or alter the world in the coming week, we can control ourselves. What might look different in your life if you operated from a perspective of love?  Love of yourself.  Love of family.  Love for coworkers.  Love of strangers you encounter.  Love of others. Even love for those you are struggling to get along with right now.  What would that look like?  I think it would look a little like Antarctica.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Boone Bound

It’s such an interesting day across the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  We call it Announcement Sunday when churches who are experiencing a change in pastors announce that their pastor is leaving and who the new person that will be coming in July will be.  For some it comes as a shock.  For others it is already known that a change is pending.  It’s never easy no matter the circumstances.  This timing is way better than it used to be.  Some of my older colleagues talk about when they would arrive at Annual Conference and find out at the end of Conference whether they were moving or not.  And then have 2 weeks for their family to pack up and relocate to a new church.  I think we have made some improvements!

It is with joy that I share that I am heading to Boone United Methodist Church in the lovely mountain university town of… Boone!  It’s a wonderful church that I am thankful I am already somewhat familiar with.  It was one of the churches in my district when I served as a District Superintendent and it is the church where my husband, Greg, was a member before moving to Centenary.  He played in the praise band and if I was not visiting the churches in my District, I worshipped at Boone.  They have some exciting ministries happening there including a couple of Fresh Expressions as well as a good relationship with the Appalachian State Campus.  Of course, we love the mountains and yes, we love the snow and cold.

But these next few months are difficult ones.  It’s always hard to say goodbye to dear friends and we have made some good friends in Winston.  It will be hard to pass on some of the reigns that I thought I would be carrying for a little while longer.  But I am pleased to hand them over to my friend and colleague, Glenn Kinken.  We will work hard to make for a smooth transition so that all that is happening at Centenary will not miss a beat.  And we will all go through the strange emotions of taking leave well where we are and getting off to a good start where we are headed.  Our church folks will be going through the very same emotions as they prepare to say goodbye and hello over the next few months.

I spent some time with Mike Slaughter at a continuing ed event a few weeks ago.  He’s a long time leader in the United Methodist Church who has always gone about doing ministry to the beat of his own drum.  He is not a fan of the itinerant system.  He managed to stay at his second appointment like 39 years!  He gets very frustrated at the momentum lost when a church has to stop and go through transition of top leadership.  He gets frustrated that a person isn’t able to put down roots and help shape a church culture long-term into a specific vision of what God is calling them to do.  I guess I feel lucky because the past two churches I moved from I was followed by great people who took the vision we had cultivated even further than I could have had I stayed.  God worked through our collective gifts and efforts and made some amazing things happen.

My hope is that God will do exactly that here at Centenary.  That laying a foundation together now someone can come along after me and the staff and lay persons together can continue to live into all that God is dreaming for Centenary.  So for now, I will trust the itinerant system and trust our collective work and begin to prepare myself to step onto a new campus and receive the baton that will be passed to me so that I can build on the great and hard work that has taken place before my arrival.

So please pray for all of our United Methodist Churches and clergy that find themselves in this season of transition.  I am grateful for the kindnesses that have been shown to me in the past 6 weeks.  Your affirmations have meant more than you will ever know.  Your sadness has been added to my own to be held for a little while longer. But as I said a few weeks ago, Romans 8:28 rings true for us all.

All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called for [God’s] purposes.  -Romans 8:28 NRSV

May that “good” start making itself known in the lives of all of those who are feeling anxious.  May the many gifts of all continue to serve God’s Kingdom through the itinerant system.  And may the Holy Spirit help prepare the way for both our coming and our going.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

It’s Time

I’m still reflecting on a truly amazing moment in the life of Centenary last Sunday.  For over 19 years plans and designs have been drawn up and discussed, vetted and unfortunately most times shelved.  But not anymore.  We voted 301 to 8 to support a $6M renovation project to renovate our 1960’s Children’s Building into new Children’s Ministry space as well as some new adult space.  To renovate our 1930’s youth ministry area, gutting the  old systems and architecturely reshaping the space. And finally adding a stretcher size elevator since our main elevator outside of our sanctuary is no longer functioning due to its age.

Not anymore are plans and dreams being shelved for another day.  Not anymore are we just talking about doing something about our dark and dreary interiors and outdated program ministry spaces.  Not anymore are we questioning whether these priorities are the best next priorities.

images-7We have said as a congregation It’s Time!  It’s time to stop talking and start doing!  So we are moving forward with the important two-pronged next steps of this process.  We will kick off our public phase Capital Campaign to raise the remainder of our $6M campaign. We are going to fund this project 100% with pledges and taking out no long-term loans.  While a small group of folks have been approached with early asks to get the Campaign started and we have raised approximately 3.4M in early pledges, It’s Time now for everyone to engage and participate.  Together, we can do this.  Every contribution and everyone’s participation – no matter how big or small- matters.

And while the funding is raised we will turn our exciting Design Plans into Construction Documents so the hard costs can be finalized and so construction/renovation can begin.

And this is when the church gets really excited.  Not only because the plans paint a picture of an exciting future filled with new possibilities and opportunities but also because it feels good to take on such a big project as a church and be successful.  To see God working within the congregation, stretching our faith and making something amazing happen that no one person in the church could or would do but together as a group, God’s dreams becomes reality.  Our dreams become reality.

So it is with excitement for your future that I step back and look at what is happening and feel thankful. Thankful for all of the youth, children and adults that will enjoy for years to come a space that welcomes them in and so fully and completely helps them experience the love of Christ.  Thankful for all of the people who will be able to access parts of the church building through the new elevator that they haven’t been able to get to without navigating stairs before.  Thankful for new and beautiful spaces that celebrate both better function for groups and people Loving God and Loving Neighbor more fully and spaces that glorify God by being part of God’s house.

It’s time.  Let’s finish the good work that has been started.

 

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Easter Changes Everything

Easter Church Design (31)

Easter changes everything.  The difference between Good Friday night and Easter Sunday morning is astronomical.  The heaviness of the cross, the darkness of the tomb.  We have seasons of our lives that feel like Good Friday.  When nothing seems to be going right.  When we feel like failures.  When we have more questions then answers.  We are confused like the disciples.  We don’t understand what the authorities have done.  We are scared.  We are sad.  You’ve been there.  I have too.

But Easter changes everything.  Because this morning, this day, we are reminded that Good Friday was not the end of the story.  Easter is coming.  And Easter is going to change things.  Today as I look at the beautiful sunrise and celebrate this amazing truth that death and darkness could not contain Jesus neither will failure and darkness dominate my life.  We are an Easter People.  We are people who love and follow the resurrected Christ.  And today, that light is going to shine fully into my life.  That light is going to shine fully into this world.  That light can also shine fully into your life, too.

Easter changes everything because Christ has the final word.  We may have to wait out the darker periods of our lives thinking they will never end.  But Easter is coming.  And yes, Easter changes everything.  With Easter comes resurrection.  New life.  New possibilities.  With Easter comes the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.  With Easter, that which is very wrong, in God’s way, gets made right again.

Maybe most importantly, with Easter comes the ability to look towards a future with anticipation that God is going to do something good.  Easter brings hope.  Easter brings images-6the metamorphosis of the caterpillar through the dark and lonely cocoon into the beautiful butterfly.

So if you feel like you have been caught in the darkness of Good Friday and Black/Holy Saturday keep looking for the cracks of light that sunrise on Easter brings.  Take heart that God is always working a new thing and today of all days, is that powerful reminder that we worship a God of new beginnings.  Of Easter mornings.  Of resurrected futures.

Happy Easter!  He is Risen!

Lory Beth