August 6, 2008

Dear Centenary Friends,

A member of the Centenary community was in another state staying in a motel. She was in the exercise room wearing a blue Centenary t-shirt while she went through her workout routine. On the front of the shirt is a small Centenary emblem. On the back these words are printed: ?In a world that expects you to know all the answers? Centenary?a place to explore your deepest questions.?

While this member of the Centenary community was exercising, there was a guy in his early twenties on the Stairmaster. That fellow read the words on the back of the t-shirt. They both finished exercising about the same time and the guy on the Stairmaster asked, ?Is that your church?? The member of our community said, ?Yes, that is my church!? He asked about the statement on the shirt and pursued the conversation about Centenary. As they left the exercise room he said, ?Well, you are really lucky to go there.? Our Centenary community member asked what he meant, and he said, ?That has got to be the greatest church I?ve ever heard of!?

What is happening is not of us? it is of God. There are just a lot of people, even strangers on Stairmasters, who find hope and inspiration in what is happening at Centenary. I could not help but be caught up in the reality of that truth last Sunday as we focused on the epic story of Jacob ?the grabber? and his wrestling match with God. The altar table was transformed into a wrestling mat as we came forward to receive the bread and wine, for we were determined to wrestle with God. The altar was full of persons who were asking questions of God and holding on and seeking to pin God, just as Jacob did. It was a holy moment.

Sometimes it is simply good to stop and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you, God, for the gift of Centenary Church, a community of faith where questions are encouraged, strangers are welcome, diversity is prized, where we don?t all look or believe alike, where worship lifts our souls, and where we can be a part of your Kingdom. Amen.

Local schools are back in session! Plan to be in your place this Sunday as vacation time begins to come to a close.

We are receiving many inquiries about a course I will be teaching titled ?Saving Jesus?. The course begins formally on Sunday, September 7, and will meet for one hour beginning at 9:30 a.m. for 12 weeks. There is an orientation time scheduled for August 24 at 9:30 in the Centenary fellowship hall. This course is designed to question some of the assumptions most of us grew up with about Jesus. It focuses on the work of many Bible scholars and theologians and will be presented from a progressive theological viewpoint. The course is not for the fainthearted nor is for those who wish to avoid asking questions about the faith. The course is for those who love to engage in dialogue about research, anthropology, biblical research, sociology, archaeology, and want to allow those disciplines to inform their faith. If you are easily offended by the non-orthodox beliefs of others, this course is not for you. We need to have an idea of how many people to expect. If you would like to be a part of the course, you may indicate that interest in one of two ways: 1) You can Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. Serve.


August 13, 2008

Dear Centenary Friends,

In this political season of posturing and campaigning, what does it mean to look at politics through the eyes of faith? Jim Wallis, a very well respected evangelical progressive/liberal, wrote a groundbreaking book several years ago titled God?s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn?t Get It. In the book he attempts to point out how the religious right has deeply harmed our country with some of their stances? but at the same time, he indicts the left for ignoring matters and issues which touch on faith and spirituality.

Much of the problem we face now with this conversation between the right and left stems from the misinformation we have about the founding of America. Those who are on the right want to insist that our nation is a Christian nation because the founders were orthodox Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yet the myth of the faith of the Founding Fathers prevails and continues to drive much of our perception of what America should be. On the other hand, there are those who mistakenly believe that the founding fathers had no faith. That position is incorrect and erroneous. To portray them as secularists who were uninterested in matters of faith is to distort history.

Stephen Waldheim has done a great service to the nation by penning Founding Faith. He recognizes that while it is a distortion to insist that the Founding Fathers were Orthodox Christians who founded a Christian nation, it is also a distortion to believe they were secularists who loathed religion. There was more complexities and subtleties to the personalities involved, particularly Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, and John Adams.

Consider these facts: Franklin flirted with a variety of religions, including Deism, but he also was interested in the Great Awakening (a time of revival in America). Of particular interest is the fact that Franklin had a deep appreciation and affection for George Whitefield, the great Methodist preacher. Franklin The bottom line is that it is impossible to generalize too much about what the Founding Fathers believed. There was no consensus and there were very sharp disagreements among them. Waldheim The sentiment of America being a Christian nation (in the way it is presently discussed in America) would have been disturbing to the Founding Fathers. Separation of church and state was critical.

Read. Be informed. Respect the faith of others, even though that faith might be radically different from your own faith. Reject a mindset that creates a spirit of exclusivity. It is fine to love our nation, but it is imperative to love the world more than we love the nation. And finally, I invite you to care deeply about what happens in our country and in the world.

I will be teaching a course titled ?Saving Jesus? on Sundays beginning September 7 at 9:30 a.m. There is an orientation scheduled for Sunday, August 24, at 9:30. If you wish to register for the course, please send an email to We would like to have an idea of how many people are planning to commit to the 12 week course.

This Sunday I am preaching from one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament (Matthew 15:21-28). The story is fascinating, but confusing. I hope that you will plan to be present as we wrestle with scripture. In the service you will hear everything from classical music to gospel hymns to a wonderful Irish hymn to Supertramp. Yes, you heard me correctly. Supertramp, the 1970?s British rock band, had a song titled ?Give a Little Bit?, released in 1977. That is the title of my sermon: Give a Little Bit. I hope to see you this Sunday!

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. Serve.


 August 20, 2008

Dear Centenary family,

My heart is happy and sad.  First, the happiness is birthed by what I see happening at Centenary.  Emily McCord is meeting with parents to think through a comprehensive program for children.  It will not look like any other church, for it will be uniquely ?Centenary? in its approach and methodology.  Worship is such a blessing!  About 100 were present for the short worship with our breakfast community last Sunday.  Beth Dunwody did a super job of sharing Good News.  At 11 a.m., 137 people were present at worship? Jerry did his usual creative job of weaving music and word together? Bill Greenhaw blessed us? Phillip, Nathan, and Kenneth on the guitars?  The powerful music by the choir....Helen read the Bible in her wonderfully expressive way.  Worship at Centenary is simply a blessing.  Mercer students are beginning to filter back into the congregation.  Along with all that, Jerry Elder is helping us to birth some new small groups.  I am beginning a study series.  The informational meeting for that is this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in the Wesley Foundation building next door to the church on College Street.  So, yes, my heart is happy because of what is happening at Centenary.

While I feel a sense of celebration with all of those things listed above, I feel sadness.  Jeremy Gray, our Director of Community Outreach, is moving to Atlanta.  Jeremy came to visit with me in 2003 or 2004 (a couple of years before I ever knew I would be involved with an urban ministry like Centenary) and stated that he wondered if I could open a door for him to serve in an urban setting.  At the time I had nothing.  But God smiled and something happened which certainly surprised me:  I came to Centenary on a volunteer basis while maintaining my full-time position with New and Revitalized Congregational Development for The United Methodist Church in South Georgia.  Upon making that decision, my conversation with Jeremy came flooding back.  Jeremy joined us at Centenary about 3 months after I came in 2005. 

Jeremy has blessed us.  Here are some words which define his life for me:  God-loving, humble, contemplative, thoughtful, searching, willing to risk, relational, effective, a sign of hope, giving.  Jeremy has a wonderful crackling laugh.  He comes from good stock.  Carol and Don Gray, Jeremy?s parents who live in Savannah, have blessed us many times with their presence.  We see where Jeremy gets some of his depth and sensitivity.  AND Jeremy married well.  Kelley has blessed us through the years of their dating, engagement, and wedding.  In fact, some of the staff members at Centenary were part of the planning process for the presentation of the ring to Kelley.  The problem with Jeremy is that he sets the bar too high for some of us guys when it comes to being romantic! 

So, this coming Sunday, August 24, will be Jeremy?s last Sunday with us.  He and Kelley will be moving to Atlanta so that Kelley can work at a law firm there.  To say the least, we will miss them both.  Jeremy has taken Centenary from dreams to reality in terms of community outreach.  He has understood that organization is not nearly as important as relationships.  Being an organism has far more value than being an organization.  Jeremy has made friends all over Macon.  He has been a leader in the Beall?s Hill revitalization and has served on the College Street Corridor Task Force for the city.  I have watched Jeremy patiently listen to the ranting and raving of a mentally ill person who lives on the street.  I have seen drug addicts sign over their income to him so that they do not have the money quickly available to buy drugs.  They wanted Jeremy to hold them accountable and they trust him implicitly.  Jeremy is known on the streets? and he is respected? and he is loved.   Through the grace of God, Jeremy Gray has left quite a legacy by living and working among us.

So? worship this Sunday will have a complexity of emotions? Our hearts will be glad!  Mercer students are back and some of them will be working with Jerry Elder in providing music for this Sunday.  I will be preaching from Ezra 3:10-13, ?The Sound Was Heard Far Away?.  And in the service I am going to ask Jeremy Gray two questions:  First, ?when did you feel like weeping as you worked among us??  And second, ?when did you feel like shouting for joy as you worked among us??  If you read the Ezra scripture, you will understand where those two questions originate.  I am looking forward to listening to Jeremy as he shares his responses in worship.  Do not miss what promises to be an incredible time of worship this Sunday.

And after worship, let?s eat together.  We are having a meal for the returning Mercer students and to honor Jeremy.  Talisa has it all arranged.  Everyone is invited.  We have planned for you.  No kidding? EVERYONE is invited.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve? like Jesus and Jeremy.

P.S.  And all of the above may make you wonder what we are going to do about Community Ministry.  The answer:  Yes, we have been working hard and spending lots of time on this matter.  A person has been hired to follow Jeremy.  She will bring strengths, just as Jeremy brought strengths.  We will come to love her? and she will come to love us.  It is not the time yet to introduce this person.  That will happen as we move into September.  But I want to put your mind at ease? yes, we are continuing to step forward with Community Outreach.  You will be hearing more.