Spirit Alive: When Gatekeepers Become Space Makers


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.

June 19, 2018

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

There are Many New Voices Among Us...

Are We Ready to Make Room and Listen?

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?'"

Isaiah 43: 19

Are you awake to the signs of life...to the "new things"...blooming around you? Do you not perceive them?

Even though I find myself often discouraged by the state of the world these days, I found last week's annual conference to be four days filled with encouraging, uplifting experiences...as a variety of new voices rose up among us to provide depth, challenge norms, and offer new hope.

While I was in Boise, several people told me that they had seldom experienced such moving events at annual conference before, while others said that they would return home paying attention in new ways to what was going on in their community.

I heard people say that what they witnessed embodied the kind of church they have longed to be a part of, while others said there were several youth in attendance who discovered a deeper sense of call while they were in Boise.

I even had one pastor tell me that he was so enthused by what he experienced that he only wished he was 40 years old rather than being in the twilight of his career, so that he could participate for a longer time in helping us become the kind of church he witnessed in Boise.

Clearly, the spirit was alive and moving among us. But what was really going on? What happened in Boise that made such a difference?

 Perhaps it had to do with Dr. Leroy Barber's reminder that we are called by Jesus to get out of our comfort zones and disrupt the order of things that protects privilege and maintains injustice.

Perhaps it was the enthusiasm and deep sense of joy that Jessie Cummins expressed while she was being commissioned as a provisional Elder.

Maybe it had to do with the vision of a vital church committed to innovation, multiplication, and inclusion that Bill Gibson, Leroy Barber, Kristina Gonzalez, and Shalom Agtarap shared with us, as they explained  their roles on the newly formed Greater NW Area Innovation Vitality Team.

It most definitely happened during the ceremony that marked the return of a small portion of land from our Wallowa Lake Camp to the Nez Perce Tribe. But it became even more pronounced when Duane Medicine Crow, from our Committee on Native American Ministry (CONAM), shared his personal apology to the Nez Perce tribal leaders. He wanted them to know of his regret for the Crow Tribe's lack of hospitality and support for Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce in 1877, as they tried to flee to Canada while being chased down by US troops seeking their capture. During this time, Duane and the Nez Perce leaders taught us all about what repentance, forgiveness, and true giving really looks like.  

Could it have been the witness of Ralph and Audrey Lawrence, who received the Harry Denman Evangelism Award, that moved us to a new place...as they were honored for more than 60 years of service to the church....while Ralph still serves as the pastor of a local congregation and Audrey continues to do hospital visitation?

Or was it the significant community witness that was on display from the small, rural churches of Arlington and Wasco, that received the Discipleship Resources One Matters Award?

Maybe it was in the power of the public #MeToo presence, which poignantly gave voice to the deep pain and hurt that happens to people as the result of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment, which touched our hearts.

Or maybe it had to do with our three Table Talk 2.0 times, that followed Rev. Brian Brown's presentations on Anatomy of Peace and his call for us to relate to each other as human beings rather than objects.

Or....perhaps it was Bishop Elaine's words that invited us to run toward love, saying, "We don't have to be passive. We've got the authority to be neighbors. Run for it."

I think it clearly happened when Eilidh Lowery and KarenHernandez led our final communion service in English and Spanish, when Isabelle Light called for those who were interested to gather and develop a plan to respond to the family separation practice being directed toward immigrants and affecting some 2000 children, and in the personal stories people posted on the #MeToo Wailing Wall as a way of saying "no more." And...the spirit embodied in these "new things" was also on display outside the conference walls as nearly one hundred United Methodists marched in the Pride Parade through the streets of Boise.

Whatever the "new things" represented for you...there is no question that there was much to take in, learn from, and savor during our time together in Boise. In fact, it is the energy we receive from these "new things," that helps sustain us in our effort to transform the world in which we live.

One final observation...and this is crucial, because there is so much work still to be done among us. When I headed to Annual Conference, I was greeted with a banner headline in USA Today that read: Churches Struggle with How to Confront Racism.

It was a disturbing article that reminded me of the deep-seeded problems that still exist within the church on so many fronts. We have a lot of work to do if we are to become God's "beloved community."

In the USA Today article, it said that "nine in ten Christian churches nationally are predominantly of one race group," and that "two-thirds of American churchgoers agreed with the statement that 'our church is doing enough to be ethnically diverse.'" No wonder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that "it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."

Clearly, it will take time, effort, listening...and the work of the Spirit for us to hear the new, diverse voices crying our in our midst....and calling us to see and understand new realities.

But as we saw again and again at annual conference. We can help make this happen. We can disrupt the sense of privilege and injustice of our current systems. We can stop being quiet and speak out. We can apologize for past harms and injustices. And we can work with others to transform the world.

Those of us within the existing system, those of us who have privilege and power, those of us who are gatekeepers within the institutions of our society can help make transformational change possible. 

But in order to do this, we will need to move from protecting our existing structures as if they are gated communities...to opening these structures up so that new voices can be expressed that disrupt the status quo. This means that gatekeepers need to become space makers, so that a new generation of leaders can find their voices and help point us toward a new, fresh horizon! It is something that we can all help make possible by attending to the "new things," listening for fresh perspectives, and making room for new voices to be heard.

So here's the question: How are you making room for something new to happen? And...do you perceive the "new things" that God is up to in the world? The future depends on it! In fact, so does the present....

Let us walk in the light of God's love,


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.








Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org