June 3, 2010
Dear Centenary friends,
I met Stacey Harwell in June, 2005. She was a rising junior at Mercer, a leader in the Mercer University college ministry (Wesley Foundation), a top-notch student, and she had fallen in love with Centenary Church. As a student, Stacey exhibited unusual commitment to spiritual authenticity. Out of her relationships in this congregation, the Spirit of God stirred in her life and she felt a call to ministry.
After completing her work at Mercer, Stacey enrolled at Candler School of Theology at Emory University for a three-year Masters of Divinity degree. Her time at Emory is marked by academic and leadership excellence. When it became apparent late last summer that we were stepping in the direction of hiring someone, I immediately thought of Stacey. I called her and said I wanted to come to Atlanta for a conversation. She and I sat in a coffee shop and I shared my vision of what her presence would mean for the Centenary congregation. Stacey got excited about that possibility and, after meeting with our Staff-Parish Relations Committee, agreed to come serve as Minister of Community Building.
Stacey?s work will be in many different areas:
· She will work with Rogers Willoughby in Outreach.
· She will have watch/care over those who visit Centenary.
· She will help us with visioning.
· She will be a part of the preaching rotation.
· She will help with expanding the ministry of Centenary.
I could not be more pleased and excited for Centenary and the City of Macon.
This Sunday, June 6, Stacey is preaching her first sermon as a part of our staff. I invite you to come hear and support her.
June 17, 2010
Dear Centenary Family,
She tentatively made her way into a pew toward the back of the sanctuary at Centenary. I sensed her discomfort. It was almost as if she was looking around and wondering why she had made the decision to come. I greeted her briefly before the service. After the service she tarried at the back of the church, waiting until others had spoken with me. With tears in her eyes she said, ?I have not been in a church for 35 years.? She did not say more. She did not have to say more. I could sense the fact that at some point she was deeply wounded by the church. Did she ask too many questions in church? Was it a judgmental sermon? Did someone hurt her feelings? I don?t have a clue, but obviously there was a rupture.
So, I said the only thing that needed to be said, ?Welcome home.? She smiled and indicated she would be back.
There are many of those stories at Centenary. It does not take a professor of statistics to know that across the board, the exits in the church in America outnumber those entering the church. For many, the church is seen as irrelevant at best and full of conflict at worst. Countless numbers want to have nothing to do with the church.
There is no question that God is summoning Centenary to be an alternative faith community. The word is out. So, my friend above hears the word on the street and tentatively steps foot inside a church for the first time in 35 years. Why? Because there is something inside of her that longs for spiritual connection. Is it worth the risk? Can there be a different way of talking about faith? Does all mean all? Could this faith community possibly include her? She wants to know, so she summons the courage to simply attend.
I have seen the larger church struggle with its identity and witness. The church is the scene of countless wars and grand abuse. BUT I AM NOT READY TO GIVE UP ON THE CHURCH. I believe that something can happen in faith communities that does not happen anywhere else. IT is deeply precious.
What is IT? Unlike other forms of community, church seems to have the potential for forming a community whose members recognize and acknowledge that their connection is based on a connection with something infinite. There can be tremendous depth and breadth to those connections? vertically and horizontally. Organized religion usually provides myth and ritual, which can be valuable for experiencing and expressing our connection with the sacred. These are not found in other aspects of our lives.
And that is why I need the church. Myth (which means that something is truer than fact), ritual, the infinite, the connection, the mystery? I have lots of communities of which I am a part, but at Centenary I find something that I cannot find anywhere else.
Welcome home to an alternative faith community that is not perfect, but it is of God.
This past Sunday we had the joy to recognize three men who ?graduated? from the Centenary transitional house ministry. What incredible joy! To God be the glory!
Tonight, James (a member of our faith community) will graduate from Central Georgia Technical College. I will be present to represent our corporate support of James. Suffice it to say that James would not be in this place if it were not for your prayerful support.
I am preaching this Sunday about a deranged guy Jesus encountered in a cemetery. It is a story with a dramatic flair. Why was the man living in a graveyard? What was his problem? What is the connection to us? We will spend some time reflecting on ?Grief Observed?. Every single one of us has unfinished business ? spiritually and mentally. It can drive you crazy. Plan to be present? Forward this email to some friends and have them join you at church this Sunday for a time of worship at 11.
Grace and peace.
Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. Serve.
June 24, 2010
Dear Centenary friends,
In the Centenary email last week, I shared the story of woman who came to worship at Centenary after being absent from the church for 35 years. My sense is that she was wounded by a church in another city at some point. She had heard of the uniqueness of the Centenary community and tentatively stepped into worship. Deeply moved, she returned the next week? and maybe the next week and the week after that.
We intersect with all sorts of communities in our lives. What makes the church (the community of faith) unique? Why do we need the church? What draws us to this holy place? My observation is that the faith community is set apart because people are gathered around a conversation with and about God (the infinite One). We do not see or define God in the same way. Uniformity of belief is not necessary or even desired. The simple recognition of a larger conversation about the nature and work of God enables us to sit in the presence of Mystery, and be blessed.
Quinn Hudson, a United Methodist from Decatur who has visited many times at Centenary because he is drawn to our community, wrote a note to me after last week?s email. He simply stated, ?Comforting and inspirational words. I would also add ?thin places? as a reason for my church attendance. ? Thin places are where the secular and sacred come together. God catches us by surprise. And suddenly something beyond us is stirring.
Quinn is right. At Centenary, we experience a ?thin place.? We encounter the mystery.
Those who have attended Centenary the past two Sundays have been a little warm because our 25-year-old air conditioning system in the sanctuary is in the process of biting the dust. Jack Castle, our building superintendent, has been working with Bill Hahn, the chair of our Trustees, to keep the system running. My guess is that if we looked at the air conditioning unit right now we might see a lot of duct tape and chicken wire! So, rather than continuing to expend financial resources on numerous and costly repair visits by air conditioning professionals, it is time to purchase a new air conditioning unit. This will cost approximately $7500. We need your help. Some can make small financial gifts. Others can give very large amounts. These need to be second mile gifts. If you make your gift to the air conditioning unit by cutting back on your regular giving to the church, that will not propel us forward. But if you can give a second mile gift, we sure could use your support. You may give your second mile gift by making out your check to Centenary Church and marking the check for ?air conditioning?. Those of you who consider yourselves a part of the Centenary community but live in other cities? are you able to help us with this? If so, please send your check to Centenary United Methodist Church, 1290 College Street, Macon, GA 31201. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I am looking forward to hearing Stacey Harwell preach this Sunday. Stacey is preaching about a story in Luke where religious authorities become angry with Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. She will help us to explore this passage of scripture and ask some important questions about the role and nature of what it means to be the church. See you Sunday!
Grace and peace.
Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. Serve.
June 30, 2010
Dear Centenary family.
Yeah, All right, Why not?, Okay, Agreed, Sure thing, youbetcha, all mean the same thing. They are different ways of saying ?yes?. The Abenaki Native Americans say ?Oho.? The Afar from Ethiopia say ?Yey.? Syrians say ?Ee?. The Auca tribes from Ecuador say, ?Ao, Ag or Oo.? So many ways to say ?yes?, so little time.
Our English word ?Yes? comes from the Old English word ?giese? which meant ?so be it.? ?So be it? or ?Yes? is precisely the definition for ?Amen.? You could say ?Amen? every time you meant to say ?Yes?, which could bring about conversations like this:
Policeman: May I see your driver?s license?
Policeman: Is this your teen-aged son in the rear seat of your car?
Policeman: Are you aware that about a mile back he mooned me out the window?
Policeman: Are you aware that, as a father, you can be arrested for this?
Policeman: Look, Buddy, you trying to pray or something?
To say ?yes? and ?amen? is to agree and affirm. To give consent. ?Amen? and ?Yes? do not always have to be audible. It can be a sigh of relief? good news from the doctor?making it up the stairs?witnessing an act of kindness?a deepening awareness of grace.
Almost every Sunday I find myself in worship whispering ?amen? and ?yes?. The ringing of the singing bowl in worship is a way of say "Yes!" and "Amen". Last Sunday particularly caught us all by surprise and we stood in amazement. The Spirit which is present every Sunday was in particular evidence. Stacey?s sermon was wonderfully crafted? the music was poignant? but it was the Spirit that caused something to happen that is beyond our ability to explain. While we regularly meet and experience that Spirit, sometimes the evidence of the presence of the Spirit is so strong that one just says, ?Yes!? ?Amen!? and ?Wow!?
The wind blows where it will. You do not know from whence it comes or where it goes. But you know when you have been in the presence of the wind. Worship is an incredible time of experiencing something beyond ourselves. Amen? AMEN! So be it! Yes! Ee! Yey! Oh, yeah! Oo!
Those who have attended Centenary the past three Sundays have been a little warm because our 25-year-old air conditioning system in the sanctuary is in the process of biting the dust. Jack Castle, our building superintendent, has been working with Bill Hahn, the chair of our Trustees, to keep the system running. My guess is that if we looked at the air conditioning unit right now we might see a lot of duct tape and chicken wire! So, rather than continuing to expend financial resources on numerous and costly repair visits by air conditioning professionals, it is time to purchase a new air conditioning unit. This will cost approximately $7500. We need your help. Some can make small financial gifts. Others can give very large amounts. These need to be second mile gifts. If you make your gift to the air conditioning unit by cutting back on your regular giving to the church, that will not propel us forward. But if you can give a second mile gift, we sure could use your support. You may give your second mile gift by making out your check to Centenary Church and marking the check for ?air conditioning?. Those of you who consider yourselves a part of the Centenary community but live in other cities? are you able to help us with this? If so, please send your check to Centenary United Methodist Church, 1290 College Street, Macon, GA 31201. Thank you for your initial response. We have received more than $2000 toward the AC unit. We need the support of those who have not responded to this ?second mile? giving opportunity.
Many are on vacation this July 4th weekend. If you are in town, plan to join us for worship at Centenary and bring a friend. I will be preaching on ?What the Mighty Learn? from 2 Kings 5:1-16. There is a personal level of learning from the biblical narrative, but there is also something we can learn as a nation on this July 4th Sunday. I look forward to seeing you Sunday.
Grace and Peace,
Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. Serve.