Archives For Book of Discipline

GC2016-logo-color-hi-resThe quadrennial global gathering of my tribe of Christians, United Methodism, begins their ten day exercise in ‘Holy Conferencing’ today in Portland, Oregon.

“Holy Conferencing” most often = Roberts Rules of Order, Democratic Practices, and Political Ideologies Slathered in Prayer

I realize I’m prone to cynical anti-institutionalism, but Bishop Will Willimon assured me that General Conference is not only a gross waste of the Church’s resources and energy but is ample cause for healthy cynicism.

As at every General Conference, the agenda will be consumed with debate about the United Methodist Church’s stance towards homosexuality, an issue over which the Church has been mired in an impasse for decades. While there are proposals before General Conference to move forward and adapt the Discipline’s language, including a realistic, moderate proposal from Adam Hamilton, with which I concur, it’s easy to sympathize with those people, both liberals and conservatives, who wish the Church simply would move on from this all-distracting issue.

I wonder, though, if closing off the conversation, as many conservatives would prefer, belies our own status as Gentiles. By seeing the welcome of gay Christians into the household of God, and into its disciplines of marriage and ministry, as a closed question, do they fail to recognize how their own admission into God’s People is possible only through an act of God’s grace that is every bit as unnatural as they take homosexuality to be?

Here’s what I mean:

In Romans 1, St. Paul writes that homosexual acts are “against nature” (para phusin). Eugene Rogers points out that in Romans 11 Paul uses this exact same phrase to describe God’s act of adopting Gentiles in to the household of Israel. God’s inclusion of the Gentiles into the People of God, Paul says, is “against nature.” God’s grace is such that Christians owe their salvation to God’s unnatural act.

Rogers argues that because Christians have been adopted so unnaturally, they must be a people of hospitality to both Jews and outsiders. He adds that because they are saved by such a strange grace, the adoption of gay Christians in to the People of God must not be a closed question for straight Christians. The salvation of Gentile Christians by the God of Israel proves that no work of inclusion is beyond this God’s unnatural grace.

For Episode 5 of our Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast, Morgan, Teer, and I talk about General Conference and the Church’s welcome of gay Christians with my friend, Andrew DiAntonio, who is now the Social Media Director for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Conference.

The audio isn’t perfect, but here you go. Be on the lookout for podcasts with Todd Littleton, Tony Jones, and NT Wright.

Subscribe to and download the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast in iTunes. Just search ‘Crackers & Grape Juice.’ And PLEASE give us an all-star rating- it makes it more likely others will discover the podcast.

You can also find the podcast here: http://www.spreaker.com/user/crackersandgrapejuice.

In about a month my little corner of the United Methodist Church (the Virginia Annual Conference) will be convening an event called a ‘Day of Holy Conversation on Sexuality.’

Isto Es: We’re talking about the ‘homosexuality issue’ in the Church.

While I hope the event bears fruit and I plan to participate as well, my fear is that it will be yet another church gathering where we talk about homosexuals in the Church rather than talk with– or, better, listen to– homosexuals in the Church.

No gay Christians will be among the official presenters at the Day of Conversation.

(I asked and then politely advocated)

I understand that putting together an event like this for so many disparate parties is a sisyphean task so I can grumble but not begrudge their decision.

But here’s something every pastor knows and everyone who volleys soundbites should know:

Homosexuals exist in the big -C- Church.

Worshipping. Leading. Fellowshipping. Grieving. Serving. We baptize them. Hand them the Eucharist. Confirm them. Bury them.

The reality in the Church is marriage is the only thing we don’t do for them/with them.

Gay Christians have existed in every little -c- church I’ve served, from the lucky-to-have-30-on-Sunday congregation in Jersey to the prison congregation I ‘chaplained’ to my present congregation just outside DC.

You could double the size of that Jersey church if you just rounded up all the congregants I’ve known with gay children. And I even know a few at the church where the Day of Conversation will be convened.

Something else every pastor knows and every partisan on TV should know:

Most people in churches have no problem with those gay Christians in their congregation.

In the flesh, grace almost always trumps doctrine.

So regardless of how one feels about the ‘issue’ and what one thinks the Church’s position should be on it, the fact remains that gay Christians aren’t simply ‘issues.’

They’re not reducible to an issue because they’re people.

They are fruit-bearing (yes, they are) parts of Christ’s Church.

Are they sinning members of Christ’s Church? Sure. But so am I.

I suspect the reason this ‘issue’ is so painful and difficult for the Church is precisely because gay Christians are a part of all our congregations, because their faith bears fruit and because church members bear them much love and friendship.

But that’s exactly the reason too, I think, that they deserve to have their Church listen to them.

All of that is just prologue to say that I think this video, already viral in the church nerd world, gets at the ‘conversation’ exactly the right way. Props to the saints and sinners at House for All.

In case the video doesn’t load on your computer, you can find it here:

We Are The Church from Angie van Broekhuizen on Vimeo.

hobby_lobbyWhile corporations are now considered people- religious people- under the law (I hope all corporations start tithing now), prisoners on death row continue to be deemed less than creatures under the law.

They can be killed.

To teach us that killing is wrong (let’s hope they were guilty).

For profit entities that bring you cheap wicker baskets made possible by child labor (not to mention population-control policies which incentivize abortion) are now more of a ‘person’ than the flesh-and-blood people behind bars, the former eliciting more of our empathy and moral outrage than the latter.

“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison a morally afflicted CEO and you came to visit me.”

You wouldn’t know- at all– from the media coverage, but while SCOTUS handed down the Hobby Lobby decision activists, Christians and clergy gathered this week on the front steps of the Court to protest the death penalty.

Chances are you’ve heard plenty about the Green family who owns Hobby Lobby and how they’ve been praised for taking a principled stand for Christ.

RNS-CLAIBORNE-COLUMNChances are you haven’t heard anything about this Christian quietly walking across Texas to show his solidarity with those his state plans to kill in the coming months and years.

That you might have only heard about the protest here speaks volumes about the holes in our Christ-centered compassion.

Christian culture is sex-obsessed, singling out a few discrete issues around which to hoist the banner of ‘life.’

Protestants would do well to learn from our Catholic friends who insist that disparate issues like abortion, poverty , healthcare and executions all belong to a single ‘seamless garment’ of life.

My own United Methodist tradition nears schism fighting over our official language labeling homosexuality as ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’

Little commented upon is the fact that our Discipline also views the death penalty as black-and-white at odds with the Gospel, for the death penalty

“denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings.” 

Translation:

In the death penalty we stop God from doing what God wants to do in people.

Change them.

That half of all United Methodists and many of its clergy support state-sanctioned killing in violation of our Discipline receives not one iota of the indignant moral outrage these days reserved for clergy presiding at same-sex unions.

Pastors aren’t brought up on charges for supporting the death penalty in the face of church teaching.

Sex is just sexier.

Plus, it requires less of us where Jesus’ requisites are concerned: that we love sinners.

Or at least begrudgingly admit that Jesus loves them.

On the front steps of the Court today you’ll find people who hold many moral and legal reasons they oppose the death penalty:

There is no way to remedy mistakes. 

There is discrimination in the application of the death penalty. 

Application of the death penalty tends to be arbitrary 

The death penalty involves medical doctors, who are sworn to preserve life, in the act of killing. 

Executions have a corrupting effect on the public. 

The death penalty is an expression/confession of the absolute power of the State. 

Even the guilty have a right to life. 

CrucifixionThe reasons are many but for Christians there’s a single primary motivating view.

It’s a view, I would argue, that cuts closer to the quick of the Gospel than do the drivers behind the other competing issues which preoccupy Church and Culture:

The New Testament teaching that we do not put sinners to death because Christ has already been put to death for every act of human sinfulness.

It is in the face of Christ that we see the full extent of how God’s mercy meets God’s righteousness.

God says in the Old Testament that vengeance belongs to him.

Only in the New Testament do we see how literal God meant it.

For in Jesus Christ God bears the full penalty of our rebellion against God and neighbor on the cross.

Here’s my sermon interview with a friend and death penalty attorney, in case you missed it:

 

16 CARAVAGGIO 02 THE SERMPON OF STEPHEN

 * The Stoning of Stephen

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* The Beheading of St. Paul

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* The (Upside Down) Crucifixion of Peter

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The Woman Jesus Refuses to Condemn to a Legal Execution

(aka: The Woman Caught in Adultery )

St Andrew Apostle

* The Whipping and Crucifixion (on an X-Shaped Cross) of Andrew

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* The Stoning (and Clubbing) of James, Jesus’ Brother

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* The Execution (by Arrows) of Jude

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* The Assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero

 

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* The Hanging of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

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God’s Mercy for Cain by God (Following the First Murder)

 

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* The Execution of Jesus (aka: God Incarnate)

* = Lawful executions of innocents carried out by the official governing bodies of the time

Pastorial_2425_Waselchuk1384735747Since so many of my peers, readers and FB friends occupy that rapidly evaporating niche of American culture that is United Methodism, I’ve got no firm grip on whether the rest of you have heard about the trial of Rev. Frank Shaefer in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Church trial, that is.

Aside: That the United Methodist Church has a judicial system that virtually mirrors, in every jot and tittle, not the Gospel of Matthew but the American system of justice should give you pause and is itself a good indicator of the problems besetting our particular brand of Jesus-following.

Rev Frank’s offense (sedition is a more apt term)?

Officiating the wedding ceremony of two gay men.

Oh- it might seem relevant to the empathetic among you- one of the two grooms is Frank’s son, Tim.

Whereas the Catholic Church makes news when Pope Francis kisses the cheeks of a modern day leper or some other Jesusy act, the UMC makes news when it asserts for the umpteenth time how much we don’t like gay people.

Just last year, for example, at our international gathering called ‘General Conference,’ we made news for being incapable of acknowledging publicly what everyone knows to be true: that Christians of good heart and faith disagree on the issue of homosexuality.

Now, I’m no liberal.

Typically, I have little patience for pastors with an ego-driven need to be ‘prophetic,’ derailing the Great Commission in their local congregation for their own activist mission.

What’s frustrating is that Rev. Frank appears to be an exception.

He didn’t marry his son to make a stand. He married his son because he loves his son.

What instead instigated the ecclesial trial is as depressing as it is cliche:

disputes between older, lifelong members of his church vs newer, younger members

traditional worship devotees vs contemporary worship aficionados

and- to the surprise of 0 pastors out there- the dismissal of a choir director

with more tenure and fans than the pastor

Rev. Frank didn’t make a stand by officiating a gay wedding. Months and months went by without any one in his church knowing he had done so.

Instead church people looking to undermine him, for reasons having more to do with liturgy than lifestyle, went digging for dirt.

The painting-into-a-corner result?

They’ve made Rev. Frank exactly what he was not the day he said ‘dearly beloved’ to his son and his son’s beloved:

an activist.

Issues of theology, biblical interpretation and sexuality aside….this is what I can say without equivocation:

News stories like this one piss me off.

Why?

My usual snark and cynicism aside, I actually believe the United Methodist Church- strike that, the Wesleyan tradition- is uniquely positioned to offer the 21st century a compelling vision of Christianity.

I actually believe we have a fruit-bearing future if only the Pharisees hell bent on safeguarding the UMC would stop and desist.

Unlike many other flavors of Mainline Christianity, Methodists believe in the Bible.

Nay, we believe in God, a living God.

We believe God speaks as much today as God ever did in bearded, bible times. And we believe the Bible is the reliable mode of God’s communication to us. Wherever else God may speak or appear or tease, we believe scripture is as regular and reliable as a bus stop.

But unlike so many brands of Christianity, Methodists don’t believe the Bible has to be interpreted woodenly.

It’s not a dead text; it’s a living text because we believe Holy Spirit is but another name for God. We Methodists, on our best days, are neither literalists nor cretins. We worship Father, Son and Spirit not page 3, 46 or verse 9.

Likewise, Methodists don’t believe God lies to us.

We believe all truth is God’s truth. If our intellect, if science, if reason, if our human experience, if the experience of other believers or non-believers tells us something about God’s world we don’t have to dismiss it as wrong, demonic, false or unbiblical. If it’s true, it’s true.

In a culture that increasingly sees Christianity as anti-intellectual, Methodism is a made to order alternative.

Contrary to many shy, mainline Christian traditions, we Methodists are a repentance-preaching, conversion-measuring sect. We expect that turning towards Jesus means you turn away from other things.

In an American culture captive to greed and individualism, Methodism could be a made to order alternative.

Distinct from our evangelical friends, Methodism is sacramental and liturgical (at least on paper).

We believe the prayers of the saints are probably better than a ‘Fatherweejust..’ prayer. We believe bread and wine are the best conveyors of God’s grace and should be taken as much as freaking possible. We believe in them Jesus makes good on his word and is really present to us in the Eucharist and unlike our Catholic friends we don’t bother trying to figure out how that’s possible. With God, after all, all things are possible and this, as luck would have it, makes Methodism the perfect tradition for a postmodern culture yearning for the mysterious and transcendent.

Like many of other Jesus brands, we believe we’re saved by grace through faith. Unlike many of those brands, we believe the proof is in the pudding. That you very likely do not have faith in God’s grace if you’re not practicing, embodying, doing God’s grace for others. For the poor.

In a culture that hungers to make a difference by serving others, by serving the poor, the followers of John Wesley are obvious candidates to take the Jesus torch into the next century.

The UMC is perfectly positioned for the century unfolding before us.

Except…

A simple Google search of ‘United Methodism’ earlier today resulted in a full 3 pages devoted to how we believe “homosexuals are persons of sacred worth” just as long as they don’t desire to express their humanity in any of the ways normal humans do.

Again, I’m no liberal.

Aside: when the US Military is more liberal than the UMC…

that’s saying something.

I believe in scripture.

I get the need for Church order. I get the need for ecclesial discipline.

But I also believe in a Savior who routinely violated his own church discipline (See: Mark, Gospel of)

And I get that this is a losing demographic issue for the UMC and, however you feel about homosexuality, being ‘right’ on this issue is not worth the cost of whole generations not hearing the Gospel because Google et all only communicate what/who we’re against.

Not what/who we’re for.

Rev Frank is only now being tried for a wedding that took place years ago.

My oldest son is a year or so away from puberty so let the UMC be warned…

Should it happen that he discovers he’s gay in the same unintended way I realized I wasn’t…and should it happen he finds love worth a lifetime…and should he ask me to…

There’s no way I’d say no.

And dammit, I don’t care what (you think) Paul said: I’m betting the house Jesus would understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

country-ham-sl-258077-lAt my first church I was introduced for the first time to Virginia Country Ham where it was both ubiquitous as a main course and utilitarian as an ingredient in other courses.

Not having had country ham before, the Italian in me located it somewhere near proscuitto, pancetta and guanciale only not as good.

Crackling, to which I was also introduced at this church, is another delicious story.

I left that church with nothing but love in my heart for the people there. Well, actually I left that church with a good bit of cholesterol in my heart too. And sodium in my veins.

My congregants’ words testified to their love for me; their culinary actions however betrayed nothing short of murderous intent. Like a porcine adaptation of Kathy Bates from MiseryMisery05

My country ham experience may be but one instance of a larger, pastorcidal trend, for, according to a new study of United Methodist Clergy Health, pastors are significantly less healthy than the general population.

This isn’t really a surprise. At Annual Conference, my denomination’s yearly gathering of clergy, one instantly notices not just the sea of white hair but the girth of God’s apostles.

According to the same study of Clergy Health, over 1/4 of Methodist pastors exhibit depressive-like tendencies.

john-wesley-1 Again, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to any one who knows Christian history.

John Wesley was OCD anal to put it lightly.

Martin Luther was plagued by a guilty conscience heavier than his substantial punching weight.

Jean Calvin was haunted by the death of his mother and his wife.

St Augustine had mommy issues that would make Freud blush.

Here’s a sampling of some of the stats:

2013 Key Findings:

  • 40% of respondents are obese and 39% are overweight—much higher percentages than a demographically-matched sample of U.S. adults
  • Nearly 51% have high cholesterol, also much higher than comparable benchmarks
  • 5% suffer from depression
  • 26% of all clergy have at least some functional difficulty from depressive symptoms
  • UMC clergy have high rates of borderline hypertension, borderline diabetes and asthma
  • Hostility of the church environment was cited by 47% who experienced at least one intrusive demand(not consulted about ministry decision; devotion to ministry questioned; doubts about pastor’s faith).

*It gets even worse-

I remember from a counseling class at Princeton that male mainline pastors tend to have significantly low (like barely not women) levels of testosterone.

As in all things, I am an exception.

I wonder if something more nefarious lurks behind the stats than country ham and covered dish congregations. I wonder if there’s something more depressing behind the mental health stats than the personalities church work has historically attracted.

I wonder if the main culprit- or an accessory to the crime- is the completely ridiculous and unfocused job description the United Methodist Church hands down to pastors. I wonder if obscuring the Reformation mandate for the priesthood of all believers leads to priestly obesity?

Take a look at this job description from the Book of Discipline and then tell me if you’re not tempted to scratch your head and reach for the Cheetos. But before you do…snark aside, this is a serious issue for pastors and churches. Obesity and the entire processed food industry threaten this country in real ways and we’re called, as Christians, to live as an alternative. A critique.

¶ 340. The responsibilities of elders and licensed pastors are derived from the authority given in ordination. Elders have a four-fold ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service within the connection and thus serve in the church and the world. Local pastors share with the elders the responsibilities and duties of a pastor for this four-fold ministry.

1. Word and ecclesial acts:

a) To preach the Word of God, lead in worship, read and teach the Scriptures, and engage the people in study and witness.24

(1) To ensure faithful transmission of the Christian faith.
(2) To lead people in discipleship and evangelistic outreach that others might come to know Christ and to follow him.

b) To counsel persons with personal, ethical, or spiritual struggles.

c) To perform the ecclesial acts of marriage and burial.

(1) To perform the marriage ceremony after due counsel with the parties involved and in accordance with the laws of the state and the rules of The United Methodist Church. The decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor.
(2) To conduct funeral and memorial services and provide care and grief counseling.

d) To visit in the homes of the church and the community, especially among the sick, aged, imprisoned, and others in need.

e) To maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, or in cases where mandatory reporting is required by civil law.

2. Sacrament:
a) To administer the sacraments of baptism and the Supper of the Lord according to Christ’s ordinance.

(1) To prepare the parents and sponsors before baptizing infants or children, and instruct them concerning the significance of baptism and their responsibilities for the Christian training of the baptized child.
(2) To encourage reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant and renewal of baptismal vows at different stages of life.
(3) To encourage people baptized in infancy or early childhood to make their profession of faith, after instruction, so that they might become professing members of the church.
(4) To explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and to encourage regular participation as a means of grace to grow in faith and holiness.
(5) To select and train deacons and lay members to serve the consecrated communion elements.
b) To encourage the private and congregational use of the other means of grace.

3. Order:
a) To be the administrative officer of the local church and to assure that the organizational concerns of the congregation are adequately provided for.

(1) To give pastoral support, guidance, and training to the lay leadership, equipping them to fulfill the ministry to which they are called.
(2) To give oversight to the educational program of the church and encourage the use of United Methodist literature and media.
(3) To be responsible for organizational faithfulness, goal setting, planning and evaluation.
(4) To search out and counsel men and women for the ministry of deacons, elders, local pastors and other church related ministries.

b) To administer the temporal affairs of the church in their appointment, the annual conference, and the general church.

(1) To administer the provisions of the Discipline.
(2) To give an account of their pastoral ministries to the charge and annual conference according to the prescribed forms.
(3) To provide leadership for the funding ministry of the congregation.
(4) To promote faithful, financial stewardship and to encourage giving as a spiritual discipline.
(5) To lead the congregation in the fulfillment of its mission through full and faithful payment of all apportioned ministerial support, administrative, and benevolent funds.
(6) To care for all church records and local church financial obligations, and certify the accuracy of all financial, membership, and any other reports submitted by the local church to the annual conference for use in apportioning costs back to the church.

c) To participate in denominational and conference programs and training opportunities.

(1) To seek out opportunities for cooperative ministries with other United Methodist pastors and churches.
(2) To be willing to assume supervisory responsibilities within the connection.

d) To lead the congregation in racial and ethnic inclusiveness.

4. Service:

a) To embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministries and servant leadership.
b) To give diligent pastoral leadership in ordering the life of the congregation for discipleship in the world.
c) To build the body of Christ as a caring and giving community, extending the ministry of Christ to the world.
d) To participate in community, ecumenical and inter-religious concerns and to encourage the people to become so involved and to pray and labor for the unity of the Christian community.

 

3.19.PastorsDoAnonymousLetters_855603649When I was a student at Princeton, I got the chance to hear a lecture delivered by Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian whose work I knew only from the snarky comments I heard whispered by certain professors as I waited on their tables during faculty lunches.

Hauerwas was a like a breath of fresh air: robustly Barthian, absolutely not a Calvinist, and he had a mouth dirtier than my own.faith4

During the lecture, which was on discipleship, Hauerwas shot from the hip and offered what has continued to be a guiding maxim of the pastorate for me:

“Ministry is like being nibbled to death by ducks.

It’s just a nibble here and a nibble there but before you know it you’re missing a leg.”

I’m grateful for those auspicious words and have never forgotten them.

I once again recalled them when this morning this little gem found its way to my desk:

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Context:

In December I preached a sermon in which I used folding chairs to illustrate my point. In the first service, the cincture of my robe kept getting caught in the chairs so I took it off for the following services.

I wasn’t making a statement.

I wasn’t trying to ‘go contemporary.’

I wasn’t trying offend traditional sensibilities.

I wasn’t trying to do anything but avoid breaking my leg on the altar steps.

Not wearing my robe that Sunday elicited such bad behavior, in the form of anonymous notes left in my box, under my door, in the pew pads, and on the pulpit, as well as gossip being brought to me fourth-hand (‘so and so is concerned..’), that I decided not to encourage such behavior by putting it back on.

To date, in over four months, only 1 actual living, breathing human has approached me face-to-face to tell me how they feel about the robe. The ratio of anonymous complaint to face-to-face encounter is about 1/300.

Before proceeding, I probably don’t need to, but I will do so anyway and point out that 98% of my congregation are wonderfully sincere Christians who are supportive, encouraging and want nothing but to partner in furthering God’s mission in the world. I love working with those 98% and I think (fingers crossed) they appreciate me, warts and all.
Back to this week’s latest note.

I could point out that leaving an anonymous complaint in the offering plate– the plate that gets prayed over and dedicated to the Lord’s reconciling work in the world- suggests something far more disturbing than my lack of vestments.

I mean- would you ever stick a cranky post-it note on the communion bread?

That’s bible bad.

I could point out how anonymous notes by their very nature are antithetical to Christian practice for they represent a refusal to be in relationship with another. They make the other an object and thus deny our mutual in-Christ-ness. This is exactly what Jesus was commanding us away from in Matthew 18 when he insists we confront those we’re upset with face-to-face.

And yet time and again we blithely dismiss congregants’ disrespect and gossip as ‘that’s how churches are.’

Meanwhile, most people my age want nothing to do with church exactly because ‘that’s how churches are.’

I could point to what’s missing in this note. Like appreciation. For example, I spent roughly 20 hours- outside the normal work day- writing the sermon I then had to deliver 4 times after also writing a funeral sermon for a tragic death. It wasn’t the best sermon in the world but it was faithfully prepared and preached. And that was just my contribution to the service. This doesn’t even include the hours the other music staff and volunteers put in to making it a meaningful service. To notice only clothing is trivial to the extreme.

I could point out that Methodists only started wearing robes in the 1940’s and 50’s when we ceased being a frontier church and aspired to be a downtown church like the Episcopalians and Presbyterians. *Interestingly, the advent of the robe in Methodist worship coincides with our inability to make new Christians.

And don’t even get me started about tattling to get the other pastor to make me do something that anonymous complaints have heretofore not solved.

The observation I do want to make, however, is about the irony within this note, suggesting that a clerical robe is a sign of my respect for said anonymous complainer rather than the robe being a sign of the respect due me by virtue of my ordination.

The note is correct. It is about respect. Towards me. My office.

And on this point I lay blame not on the anonymous individual but on the United Methodist Church. 

I spent countless summers working as a lifeguard at a country club. I know what it feels like to work at a country club, sporting the emblazoned, obligatory uniform. Sure, the uniform served a helpful function. I was the guy who could help save people.

The uniform did something else too.

It identified me as ‘labor’ and everyone else as ‘ownership.’

I would argue that same dynamic, dichotomy, marks many a Methodist church.

The downside of the United Methodist Church having never fully claimed the Reformation mandate of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ is that in most congregations the ministry is owned by the pastors and staff.

We do ministry for the members not with them; consequently, the constituency becomes the congregation rather than the community.

A delineation between clergy and laity grows until it becomes ingrained.

What was once anathema to the early church becomes ‘how we do church.’

The clergy robe marks us in many minds not as a vicar of Christ, not as someone who might help people get saved, but as ‘labor.’

And as I know from working at a country club, owners can treat labor however they please.

The difference between a church and a country club is that I don’t care who pays the bills (though I’m grateful they do) it doesn’t change the fact that the church belongs to Jesus Christ. And I report to him not the authors of anonymous notes.

When it comes to churches, unlike country clubs, membership has no benefits.

Other than taking up a cross.

 But as I said I blame this on the UMC not on the individual. 

The United Methodist Church gives a lot of lip service to laity sharing in the ministry of Christ but the denomination places such requirements upon the local church (mandatory committees and admin positions) that ‘sharing in the ministry of Christ’ most often gets realized in the form of serving on committees.

Having raised their hand to vote, most lay people don’t have the time to do anything else in their church.

And then we wonder why lay people can’t even pray out loud without blushing and deferring to the pastor.

It gets worse on the flip- side.

The polity of the UMC tacitly encourages this division of ‘labor’ and ‘owners.’

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church lays all the responsibility of the local church upon the pastor- you should Google the Discipline’s summary of the expectations of a pastor, it’s endless.

At the same time, the Book of Discipline gives those same held-responsible-pastors virtually no official leadership authority. As a pastor, I’ve no real role (nor do any staff) at a church council meeting, for example.

To make us even more impotent, itinerancy moves preachers at such a frequency that most pastors are kept from serving in one place long enough to ever cultivate organic leadership authority.

The only solace I derive from this is that our bishops are similarly neutered into irrelevance at General Conference.

Since this note was anonymous I can’t (in biblically mandated Jesus fashion) confront the person face-to-face. Instead I I thought I could pass the note on to my true source of frustration, the denomination. I could forward the note to my bishop with my thoughts on the real problem behind it all:

‘the priesthood of pastors and the ownership of members.’

But then, that would be a waste of time.

The bishop too is powerless to do anything about it.