The Church I Long For Is …

It was a profound and holy moment. At the end of our orders gathering last Tuesday, we were asked to fill in the blank, “The church I long for is …” Prayerfully and humbly, 170 clergy voices around the sanctuary shared their hopes and dreams for our beloved United Methodist Church.

The church I long for is …
    Grace-filled
        Courageous
            Strong
                Hopeful
                    Infused with the Holy Spirit

We spent the day using a process developed by Bishop Ken Carter and the Florida Annual Conference called Point of View (POV). It’s a way of engaging in holy conversation around human sexuality by developing empathy, understanding, and compassion for one another. Our leader was Rev. Magrey deVega, who is the senior pastor of Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, Florida. Rev. deVega was a perfect facilitator for us because for eight years, from 2007-2015, he was the pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Cherokee, Iowa.

POV gatherings attempt to create an alternative to the divisive spirit both in our culture and in the church by operating under the presupposition that we need each other to accomplish the mission of The United Methodist Church. Three drivers of Point of View are:

  • Empathy: seeing and listening from the perspective of another person.
  • Context: having a broader understanding of what factors shape our own views and the views of others.
  • Generative dialogue that encourages people of varied convictions to flourish together.

How we might develop a common missional approach for all people to grow as disciples of Jesus regardless of their differences?

The church I long for is …
    Humble
        Open
            Leading by example
                Curious
                    Centered around the table of the Lord

One of the most helpful parts of the day was our dialogue around empathy. Empathy can be defined as “the act of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.” The Point of View process emphasizes the importance of feeling connection with others, seeing the other’s perspective, and offering no judgment. Empathy does not try to make things better but rather seeks understanding. Click here for a brief video by Brené Brown on empathy.

When we take the time to discern the various positions on human sexuality and put ourselves in the place of the people who hold those views, we develop a heart of peace, not a heart of war. But more than that, we have an opportunity to show the world how different perspectives can be part of the same church.

The church I long for is …
    Steeped in the teaching and example of Jesus
        Reaching out
            Always climbing into the hole with others
                Transforming lives
                     Giving itself away

In order to create the church we long for, we will all have to become better listeners. One of the values of the Commission on a Way Forward gatherings that are taking place around our United Methodist connection is hearing the voices of others around human sexuality. At our POV clergy gathering last week, we learned how to be better listeners by focusing on the person who is talking and not simply rehearsing our own response. When we insist on sharing our own worldview first, without seeking to understand the hurts, hopes, and frustrations of the person(s) with whom we are engaging, we limit our effectiveness in connecting others with Jesus.

The church I long for is …
    Witnessing
        Risk-taking
            Visionary
                Joyful
                    Always going to the margins

The most challenging questions were near the end of our day together, when we were asked to discern:

  • What areas do I need to confess where I have missed the mark?
    I thought of the Historic Questions (BOD, ¶330.5.d) asked of clergy seeking admission into full connection in The United Methodist Church, knowing that I need to continually challenge my own faith and practice.

    • Have you faith in Christ?
    • Are you going on to perfection?
    • Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
    • Are you earnestly striving after perfection in love?
    • Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and God’s work?

  • If I were to act out of my bravest self, what would I do next?
    • Keep listening to God and others
    • Keep making disciples
    • Keep modeling the grace and love of Jesus
    • Keep encouraging difference making
    • Keep surrendering and giving myself away
    • Keep building bridges and seeking understanding

What is the church you long for?

The Key to Liberty

The key to liberty? The right to vote. The midterm elections are almost upon us. Four hundred and seventy seats in the U.S. Congress (35 Senate seats and all 435 House seats) are up for election on November 6. Not to mention local and state elections all around the country. The rhetoric is fierce, political commercials dominate the airwaves, and negative campaigning abounds in both parties.

Nevertheless, the right to vote is the key to liberty and a democratic society. My hope and prayer is that every American who is eligible will either vote by absentee ballot or show up at their polling location on November 6. Gary and I sent in our absentee ballots last week because we will be at the Council of Bishops meeting on November 6.

Did you know that in 1776, the official beginning of the United States, voting was controlled by individual state legislatures? Only white males age 21 and older who owned land were allowed to vote. Almost a hundred years later, in 1870, the 15th amendment to the Constitution eliminated racial barriers to voting for males. However, women and Native Americans were still denied the right to vote. In addition, poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud, and intimidation prevented many from voting who were eligible.

I have become fascinated with the story of the fight for women’s voting rights in America because the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution will be upon us in 1920. I am particularly interested because in 1920, my grandmother was 28-years-old. She was a bit of a rebel, and I regret that I never had a chance to ask her what she thought about the right of women to vote. I would encourage you to read Elaine Weiss’ 2018 book, The Women’s Hour; The Fight to Win the Vote, which tells the story of the fierce battle that ensued in Nashville TN, the battleground of the 19th amendment.

In the 19th century, women began advocating for the abolition of slavery in the south. Lucretia Mott founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and led the delegation of women to the 1840 World AntiSlave Convention in London. In 1848, Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton decided to call a convention for women’s rights at a Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls NY, with assistance from former slave and great friend to women, Frederick Douglass. Weiss summarizes Douglass’ arguments, “The ballot is the guarantor of all other rights and the key to liberty.” Three hundred women showed up, and a suffrage resolution was passed by a small minority.[i]

Full voting rights for women were still many years away, however. In 1920, after 72 years of constant advocating, women became more confident and assertive and enjoyed more opportunities, yet they were still second-class citizens. The struggle of women was not only political, but it was moral, social, cultural, and religious as well. Wealthy, powerful men were threatened by the courage of women, and pastors often condemned women from the pulpit for their boldness in speaking out. In addition, racism and sexism were intertwined in the struggle for the vote.

©Paul Thompson/Getty Images

Momentum for women’s voting rights continued to build during the first two decades of the 20th century. In 1919, the 19th amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote, passed the U.S. House and Senate. Now it had to be ratified by two-thirds of the state legislatures in order to go into effect.

36 states were needed to ratify the 19th amendment, and by the summer of 1920, 35 states had approved it. Tennessee now became the battleground for one of the greatest fights in US history: the right of women to vote. If the Tennessee legislature ratified the 19th amendment (popularly called the Susan B. Anthony amendment, after another great social reformer and women’s rights activist), 23 million women would be eligible to vote in the November 1920 presidential election.

Three different women’s organizations were in Nashville to advocate for their cause. “Antis” were against women’s suffrage, and “Suffs” were advocates for women’s right to vote. Carrie Chapman Catt was president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. Catt grew up as Carrie Lane and lived on a farm in Iowa. When Carrie was 13, she watched her father, brother, and their farmhands go off to town to vote. She also knew that her mother was smarter and had greater political instincts than any of them. Yet they were eligible to vote, and her mother wasn’t.

Catt graduated from Iowa Agricultural College and, at age 24, became the superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa. Eventually, Catt devoted her life to women’s voting rights and traveled the country advocating and organizing. The other “Suff” organization was the National Women’s Party. This radical wing of the suffrage movement was led by Sue White. Unfortunately, rather than cooperate and collaborate, the two suffrage organizations often competed against each other.

The third organization was the Tennessee Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, led by President Josephine Pearson. Their opposition to voting rights for women was based on arguments such as “Is the US ready for women to be equal citizens?” and “A woman’s place is in the home as wife and mother.” The men had their own arguments. “The Bible prohibits women from being in leadership over men.” “Women are too irrational, emotional, sentimental, and not intellectual enough.” “Only those who must bear arms should be allowed to vote.” And, “I’d rather see my daughter in a coffin than at the polls.”

On August 13, 1920, after intense lobbying on both sides, the Tennessee legislature affirmed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by a single vote, and women were given the right to vote. It was the Women’s Hour. On August 26th, the 19th Amendment entered the Constitution. Consider the next 64 years.

 

  • In 1924, Native Americans were given the right to vote.
  • The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteed that all men and women, 21 and older, could vote regardless of race, religion, or education.
  • In 1965, the Federal Voting Rights Act banned literacy tests and mandated translation of materials where there are a large number of non-English speaking citizens.
  • In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowered the voting age to 18.
  • In 1984, the federal Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act required polling places to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Women continue to make great strides as we approach the 100th anniversary of voting rights for women. We’re not there yet, however.

  • Women comprise 20% of the House and Senate.
  • Three of nine Supreme Court justices are women.
  • Women are presidents of 25% of American colleges and universities.
  • Women in ministry earn 20% less than male counterparts.
  • 17 of the 66 active United Methodist bishops are women.
  • In 1980, the first woman, Marjorie Matthews, was elected and consecrated as a bishop in The United Methodist Church. In 1984, the first African-American woman, Leontine T. Kelly was elected and consecrated as a bishop. In 2005, Rosemarie Wennerwas the first women to be elected bishop outside the United States. And in 2008, Joaquina Filipe Nhanala was the first woman to be elected bishop on the African continent and serves the Mozambique Episcopal Area.

Still today, the ballot is the guarantor of all other rights and the key to liberty. So, head for the polls on November 6 and let your voice be heard!

 

[i]Elaine Weiss, The Women’s Hour; The Great Fight to Win the Vote, 2018, Kindle edition, p. 50.

The School of Dreams in the Valley of Hope

We simply wanted to climb to the top of Mount Chiremba, which overlooks United Methodist-related Africa University in Zimbabwe. Larry, Ben, Paul, and I parked Larry’s truck at the Old Mutare Methodist Mission to begin our 4,000-foot climb when we were suddenly surrounded by eight children and youth from the Fairfield Children’s Home, who decided to hike with us. We sang songs together as we walked the path. It didn’t take too long, however, for one of the oldest boys to lead the way. Instead of taking a trail, however, he started bushwhacking straight up the mountain!

We were definitely blazing our own trail through the thick brush, and I regretted wearing shorts. The adults all had sturdy shoes and were huffing and puffing, but the kids were scampering up the mountain in sandals or flip flops and carried no water or food. After an hour and forty-five minutes, we finally reached the top and marveled at the view. We pointed out to the children that the Old Mutare Mission and the chapel, Ubuntu Centre, and hilltop cross at AU are all intentionally geographically and spiritually aligned.

Then the party began. Everyone was hungry and thirsty, so we shared everything we had: a few water bottles, two apples, a protein bar, and two granola bars, carefully cut into twelve pieces with Larry’s knife so that all could be fed. Paul played the harmonica, the kids danced, and we all sang, right there on the top of Mount Chiremba. “This is the bread of life and the cup of salvation, given for you.” Without a doubt, it was the heavenly banquet on earth.

One of the students we met during our time at Africa University was Samson, or Sam for short. Sam, who was our trip photographer, said that the first sign he saw when he initially visited AU was, “Africa University is made for leaders.” Wanting to be educated at such a university that emphasizes leadership, Sam tried for three years before receiving enough scholarship help to be able to enroll. You can hear Samson tell his story by clicking here. 

Samson said that he was nine years old when he met first met Iowan Beverly Nolte in Nigeria. Sam also received school supplies from a shipping container sent by Iowa United Methodists to Nigeria. With tears in his eyes, Samson vividly remembered the containers, which were filled with clothing and other necessities. His mother received items as well. Samson, now 25, is very grateful for the help of others and wants to devote his life to making a difference.

AU is a premier university in Africa. Founded in 1992, Africa University has grown steadily and produces future leaders for the continent of Africa. These are the kinds of inspirational signs that are seen all over campus and on billboards and buses: Africa University: Investing in Africa’s Future; Africa University: Leaders Are Made Here; and Learn Here, Stay Here, Lead Here, and Change Africa.

We also had a chance to meet with three AU students from the Congo who are receiving scholarships from Iowa: Sam (not Samson), Lumiere, and Shonsee. Sam spent the past year in intensive English classes and is now in his first year, majoring in international relations. Lumiere is in her third year and is majoring in medical laboratory sciences. And Shonsee is in her fourth year, majoring in computer science. Betty and Rev. Kiboko Kiboko are from Iowa have been instrumental in encouraging Iowa churches to support AU students. All three students have amazing dreams for their future and expressed gratitude for the support and prayers of others.

When we asked Sam, Lumiere, and Shonsee what challenges they and other students at AU face, a primary concern is what tomorrow will look like. Because of the uncertain economy in Zimbabwe and the fact that many students are not able to be financially supported by their parents, they have to rely on scholarships, which are wonderful but do not cover everything. Some students can’t afford the meal plan. Others are never able to go back home during school breaks because of travel costs. Nor are they always able to purchase computers. Students uniformly love AU, but the wish list is long.

Simple things like having TVs in dorms and up to date gym equipment are difficult. There are not enough laboratories. Students live three to a room, and there is not a great amount of personal space. Yet AU is a joy-filled, Christ-centered university where students receive a first-class education and weekly chapel often has standing room only.

Shonsee, Sam, and Lumier said that they are learning and growing at AU, as students of different cultures, languages, and religions live, serve, and make a difference together. They are an ubuntu family, seeking to create an ubuntu world where “I am because you are.” Sam, who was raised in The United Methodist Church and has worked in the church, says that his faith has helped him grow spiritually. Lumiere is in the Africa University choir, and her Christian faith prompted her to help in the education of children when living at home. Shonsee believes that we must give a hand to others who are crawling and need to find work to create a sustainable and healthy life.

I am proud of a United Methodist university that reaches out to help students from across the African continent to not only receive an education but to give back to their country and the world. Africa University exists because United Methodists are committed to higher education on the Africa continent. Did you know?

  • 24 African countries are currently represented at AU.
  • All United Methodists contribute to the development of the next generation of African leaders through The Africa University Fund, which is one of seven apportioned funds in The UMC. Gifts to the Africa University Fund support the general operating expenses of Africa University, including faculty and staff salaries and vital infrastructure. Please encourage your church to contribute their AU apportionment in full every year.
  • Many UM congregations contribute extra money that goes toward scholarships, the endowment, or capital projects, such as AU’s first swimming pool on campus, which was a gift of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference and was being filled with water for the first time last week.
  • We also celebrated the completion of the Ubuntu Centre, which offers ten double occupancy rooms and fourteen single occupancy rooms, all with air-conditioning and ensuite bathrooms.The popular Ubuntu Centre hosts mission teams, visiting professors, and conference attendees, and our group from Iowa was able to stay there last week.
  • AU has 2,000 students on average. Right now, 53% are female and 47% are male, and 35-40% are international students.
  • AU graduates are making a difference all around the world in government, education, social services, and the church. The first AU graduate to be elected a bishop in The United Methodist Church is Bishop Mande Muyombo, who is the episcopal leader of the North Katanga Conference in the Congo. AU graduates also serve as clergy in the United States, including several in Iowa.

AU is a leader in higher education in Zimbabwe and is raising moral, ethical, and spiritual leaders for the transformation and redemption of our world. Africa University welcomes mission teams to come and see what is happening on campus. They would also love to work with local churches, districts, and conferences who desire to fund scholarships or special projects. Thank you for your prayers, encouragement, and financial support for the school of dreams in the valley of hope.