May 15, 2013

Dear Centenary family,

It was a first for me.  Judge Marc Treadwell invited me to pray at the Naturalization Ceremony at the Federal Courthouse on March 20.  In the courtroom were 44 persons who had been through a lengthy immigration process in order to become citizens of the United States.  The petitioners (those who were to become naturalized citizens) represented 18 different countries of origin.   Family members had come from near and far to bear witness to this moment.

Here is the prayer I prayed before the petitioners took the Oath of Allegiance:

Our hearts are filled with thanksgiving for those who, this day, have chosen to live with us.  We are thankful for their courage, their faith, and their talents.  We pray that we may be to them as brothers and sisters, as friends and neighbors, giving encouragement and guidance along the way of service in our country.  Enable them to choose the better ways and reject the lesser ways of our life.  Grant that all of us, together, will bring more quickly the day of justice and peace, love, and joy for all persons in this country and throughout the world.  Amen.


The Naturalization Ceremony reminded me of the great mix of people who were present at Pentecost.  According to Acts, they included “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs….”  (Acts 2:9-11a)  Quite a list!  By my count, that is at least 14 different countries.  They spoke their own native tongues, but the Spirit of God suddenly gave them a common language and understanding.  Amazing!


This Sunday is Pentecost.  So… when you come to worship this Sunday plan to dress in bright colors – red, orange, a Hawaiian shirt, neon green, a native costume (if you have a different country of origin), yellow… if you have anything bright, wear it….  I am wearing an African shirt I was given when I was preaching at a Methodist Church in London where most of the congregants were first generation immigrants from Africa. 


At Centenary, Pentecost seems to happen with some frequency.  All of a sudden we are caught up, almost unexpectedly, in something much larger.  It feels like the wind.  We will begin the service with music from China.  Come early so you won’t miss anything.


Grace and peace.


Tim Bagwell


Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.  

May 29, 2013


Dear Centenary family,

My friend and mentor, Bill Powell, died last Friday night.  38 years ago I met and worked for Bill.  He changed the way I viewed ministry.  Who was Bill?  He was a crotchety, gifted, chain-smoking, golf-playing, hymn-singing, off-color joke-telling, Methodist pulpit prince who blessed my life.  Lest you think I am being rough on Bill, every description I just gave of Bill was talked about at his funeral.  Laughter rolled from the 500 or so gathered for his funeral as stories were shared of this larger-than-life character.  Flawed?  You bet Bill was flawed.  He would freely acknowledge that.  Aren’t we all?  Bill’s definition of righteousness was not closely related to the superficial understanding of holiness that many have commonly associated with faithful holy living.  Bill could sometimes be an acerbic jack ass.  His brilliance caused him to “not suffer fools gladly.”  Patience was not his strong suit.  But Bill was also compelling, challenging, and insightful.  (Once again, Don Kea and Sammy Clark talked about all of this at his funeral.)  So what was it, then, that caused Bill to be deeply loved?

Bill, for me, was like the whiskey priest in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.  This novel, considered one of the finest in 20th century literature, has as its principle character a priest who is deeply flawed.  He lives his life in the shadows and the sunlight.  There are times he “succeeds” and times he fails.  For him, there are more questions than answers, but in the end it is the questions that offer the hope and possibility of redemption.  There is a complexity and irony to his life.  The central character is not good at masquerading virtuosity.  He was incredibly real.  And that is why Bill’s life was celebrated.

Pastors gathered for the funeral in Columbus, Georgia.  People who had been members of churches Bill served flocked to the funeral.  We came.  We celebrated this flawed, stumbling, brilliant comet of a man. 

This Sunday, Emily (my daughter) and I are preaching a dialogue sermon.  (In less than two weeks, Emily will be commissioned as a Deacon in the United Methodist Church and will be appointed to serve as the associate pastor at St. James UMC in Atlanta.)  In Sunday’s sermon, Emily and I will be looking at Elijah and Elisha, both Old Testament prophets.  Elijah carried the ball for God awhile and then he handed it off to Elisha.  Emily and I are going to be reflecting on what that means for us, being that we are of different generations just like Elijah and Elisha.  But there are those who have gone before me… Hamp Watson, John Bagwell (my father), Bill Powell, along with a host of others who I will be thinking about as I preach my part of the sermon this Sunday.  Join us for worship at a place where the questions of our lives lived before God offer us hope and the possibility of redemption.


The weather forced us to cancel the gathering at Jerry and Phyllis Elder’s farm on Lower Thomaston Road on May 5 after the Anne Lamott series on prayer.  So, we are re-scheduling it for this Sunday, June 2.   (Directions will be in this week’s bulletin.)  The Prayer Trail will be open at 4 pm.  At 5 pm we will have a vesper service, a time of singing and praying.  At 5:30 the Prayer Trail will be open again.  And then at 6 we will eat together.  Come for a time of reflection and fellowship.

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love yourself.  Serve.