Spirit Alive: That's Not All Folks, Part 2

Spirit Alive: That's Not All Folks, Part 2


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 26, 2018

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Becoming a Church on the Move...

"'Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love."

"Man's (sic) capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's (sic) inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."

"The sad duty of politics is establishing justice in a sinful world."

Reinhold Niebuhr

American Pastor, Professor, and Prophet , 1892-1971

After posting last week's Spirit Alive, I received a number of emails from folks saying how excited they were to be a part of the kind of church I was describing.

While in Boise, I wanted to share a story with those gathered there about something I recently experienced. However, there was simply not enough time to do this given our very full schedule. So, let me share that story with you now.

A few months ago, I was at a church event and someone, who works as a consultant to congregations and annual conferences, said something like this to me: "Because of the deep divisions in the church, a lot of annual conferences seem to be preoccupied by what is going to happen next. In fact, at times some of them are so distracted by what might happen next that they are unable to focus on their current ministries. Sometimes people even seem to be stuck. But, Lowell, your annual conference doesn't appear to be distracted in the same way. Instead, your conference is focused on the ministries you are engaged in and you guys are even creating new projects undeterred by the deep divisions in the church. What's going on with you folks?"

My response was that I thought we were simply focusing our attention on being the kind of church we want to be and practicing the qualities of what it means to be that kind of church now. In short, we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ in a particular way...no matter what happens next.

So, from my perspective, we are trying to answer some basic questions: How do we want to live abundantly? How do we talk with each other around tables? How do we reach new people in new places? Are we inclusive and welcoming of all people? Do we love our neighbors with compassion and empathy? Are we curious? Do we practice kindness? Are we as interested in what others have to say as we are about our own opinions? Are we willing and able to stand up for justice, love, and peace in difficult times? Can we see the humanity of all people?

I told this person that we want to embody the kind of church that can answer these questions. And I told him that it's not that we aren't aware of the divisions and challenges we face in the world and in the church, it's just that we want to be about certain qualities and characteristics now...no matter what happens next. If we do that well, then we will be focused on innovation, multiplication, and inclusion...and those traits will serve us well in the future.

So what kind of church are we becoming?

The fact that over 1,000 people signed up to participate in Table Talks in 30 locations in the Greater NW Area in the past three months...that we spent three additional hours in Table Talks 2.0 in Boise...that we are creating new ways to be in dialogue across cultures...and that we are continuing to develop a network of practitioners working on the principles of Radical Compassion says that we want to be an open and conversational church.

That we made a decision a year ago to establish an Abundant Health Initiative, created an active AH work team with Emilie Kroen as the Team Lead, and that we have hired Rev. Marshall Wattman-Turner as the part-time Abundant Health Coordinator to begin a listening process that will hopefully lead to us establishing an annual conference network around health and wholeness, says that we want our people and communities to live well in mind, body, and spirit.

That during the past year, we've created an Annual Conference Immigration Work Team, sent a team of leaders to the California/Mexico border to learn about the issues there, and received funding to bring on a part-time intern to work with us on immigration issues, so that we are prepared to address unjust policies that separate parents and children...and respond to the sense of fear and prejudice within our communities, says that we want to be a people of hospitality, who welcome those fleeing injustice and seeking refuge in a new land.

That we spent significant time at annual conference last week returning some land at Wallowa Lake Camp to the Nez Perce Tribe...that the Ministry Leadership Team has created a work team to develop a proposal to address the affordable housing crisis in our midst and convene a summit this summer to look at this issue...that we've hired a part-time LGBTQ Advocacy Coordinator, Brett Webb-Mitchell, thanks to a grant from The Collins Foundation, to help us deepen our understanding and advocate for this vital issue, and that we continue our work with Israel/Palestine by having a Holy Land Task Force to guide us in this work...says that we care about matters of justice and are dedicating our time, talent, and resources to address the real issues of our time.

And finally...that we are creating new places for new people in Boise, Portland, Salem, Eugene, Bend,  among other places...that we are developing an Ecology of Transition and holding Transition Retreats for those experiencing changes in appointment, that we will be holding a summit this fall to look at how to best align our collective resources to maximize our efforts and initiatives in this ever-changing mission field...says that we want to align our assets and structures so that we can truly make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

This is the kind of church we are becoming....And we need to be about such things as a church....no matter what happens at General Conference in February 2019...and no matter what we look like institutionally as a result.

You see...we simply can't wait around, wondering what will happen next. We need to decide now on matters of our basic character as a church, because important life issues and critical spiritual concerns continue to arise on a daily basic, which challenge our fundamental principles of love, compassion, peace, and justice...and we need to be prepared to respond to these realities from a place that is deeply grounded spiritually, well-formed ethically...and rooted in our Wesleyan heritage.

This makes me think about being a part of a recent vigil that was held at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. This is the site where 123 immigrant men are being incarcerated without having access to lawyers or pastoral support through chaplains or clergy. Seeing this kind of injustice take place within our communities demands that we are clear about who we are as a church...and determine if, as Christians, we are courageous enough to stand up and act with a sense of compassion and peace.

When women step forward through the #MeToo campaign to shine the light on the issue of sexual harassment and abuse and say "No more," we need to be prepared, as people of faith, to listen and then respond in ways that are healing and redemptive...and that restore a sense of wholeness among us.

When the children of our communities tell us that they are tired of being afraid to go to school because of the gun violence that we allow to continue, we need to know how to bring a spirit of Christian love and compassion to the conversation.

This is why we can't afford to be pre-occupied by our own divisions or wait to see what will happen next. There is too much to do...too many conversations to have....too many important, essential qualities to make a part of who we are now. If we aren't able to practice being the kind of church that we want to be, then when will we start? It reminds me of the famous words of the great Jewish Rabbi Hillel, who said: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?"

If are aren't being the kind of church we want to be now, then we simply won't be ready to be a part of the solution. And if we aren't creating real-life images of the kind of church we are, then we will have nothing to point to when people ask "What do you believe?"...or "Who are you?"

Maybe it is as the saying goes, "We are the ones we have been waiting for."

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.






comments powered by Disqus

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

Boldly Making Disciples of Jesus Christ - Vitalizing the Church - Transforming the World