Does this Speak for Christ?

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Rarely do I yield this column to another, but my colleague Rev. Billy Echols-Richter (Grace Ave. UMC, Frisco) speaks my mind better than I would have so I quote him fully from a recent Facebook post:

Over the years I have discovered that the Church can and will be a place of disagreement. Many times in our particular church I have had people disagree with me, what I said, what I believe or a stance or policy our church has supported. These disagreements often come with a great deal of pain and anxiety. I have never, however, thought to say to someone: “Well if you don’t like it, you ought to just go back to where you came from.” I have never thought to say, “If you don’t like it here, you ought to go back to ...

New England

The Pacific Northwest

Florida

Ohio

Mexico

North Carolina

South Carolina

Wisconsin

Venezuela

California

Iran

Louisiana

Kenya

Great Britain

Kansas

Saudi Arabia

Nebraska

Tanzania

Japan

India

Indiana

Iraq

Arkansas

Guatemala

Michigan

Egypt

Norway

Czech Republic

Korea

Georgia (both of them)

Colorado

Ghana

Australia

Oklahoma

Argentina

Alaska

Afghanistan

Utah

Germany

Mississippi

Syria

Alabama

China

Illinois

Italy

Ireland

South Africa

West Texas

East Texas

South Texas

Central Texas

South Dallas

East Dallas

West Dallas

North Dallas

Ft. Worth...

Just to name a few.

To do that diminishes everything and reduces all of us to the zero sum game of insiders and outsiders.

Ephesians ‭2:17-19‬ reminds us:

“So Christ came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,”

So maybe we should ALL go back to where we came from. I believe very deeply that we come from God, we return to God, and in between we have been given this precious gift of an earthly life. Why should we waste this gift on exclusion, hate and demagoguery?

Let us choose to remember the Doxology so many of us sing every week:

“For from God and through God and to God are all things. To God be the glory forever. Amen.” ‭‭Romans ‭11:36‬ ‭

Thank you Billy for being a leader who speaks difficult truths.

Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community,

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Pardon our Progress

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The success of the Our Home campaign after only 14 months has been largely invisible to most of us. This is because the $450,000 payment toward our long-term debt was a financial transaction, and the renovation work done so far has been in the Gym and Chapel, spaces not used by most of us. That all changes this week. 

As you read this, pews and stained-glass windows are being removed from the Sanctuary for safe-keeping. Just as we did in the Chapel, the stained-glass windows will be cleaned and receive a cover sheet of insulated glass for protection before they are reset in new weather-sealed frames.  Acoustic panels will be installed across the entire parabolic ceiling to increase and sharpen the clarity of sound. A 75" TV screen will be mounted on the back wall so the choirs can see what we all see on the front screens. Lastly, we are replacing new light bulbs and installing new carpeting throughout the Sanctuary. The result will be a new look, improved sound and fresh carpet smell at the end of the project in mid-October. You can find photos of the progress and a timeline schedule of the renovations HERE.

In the meantime, you can expect chairs on our green carpet in the center two sections over the summer as the work progresses around us week to week. It should be both interesting and satisfying. Make every effort when you are in town this summer to be present for the progress as we worship God who is always there. Thank you for your stewardship of this, God's holy temple.

With thanksgiving for you,

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How Are We Treating Our Children?

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In our current Lessons From Leaders sermon series, I mentioned the late Nelson Mandela who kept moving ahead toward his vision of a better South Africa and world. In seeing the heart-breaking images of children and families in overcrowded holding pens where bedding, showers and simple toiletries including diapers are in short and dire supply, I am reminded of a great truth spoken by Mandela, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

The humanitarian crisis on our border is speaking volumes about the state of our society’s soul right now. We can do better and we must do better as a society, certainly as one whose moral direction has largely been founded on biblical precepts that have always dignified the sojourner, the immigrant, women, and especially children. Jesus was adamant about this; they are the ones in whom we see the kingdom of God. I have asked the Rev. Diane Presley and our mission team leaders to ponder how we will constructively respond to this crisis as a church because we can do better and we must do better as the hands, feet and tears of Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow night we will certainly delight in, and for a little while be distracted by the rightful grandeur and glory of our Pops Concert, with recognition of our veterans, and followed by the City of Plano fireworks display celebrating our country and its goodness.

I will also certainly at some point in all the entertainment and comfort pause and feel uncomfortable as I hear Mandela whisper, “How are you treating the children?”

Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community,

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Sisters of Faith, Friendship and Mission

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Summer presents such a mix of feelings around transition from one season to another. This is especially true in United Methodist churches when itinerancy moves pastors from one church to another. In a span of a few weeks, we as pastors and congregations go from feelings of loss and grief right into feelings of gain and excitement. Such is our case this year as we said goodbye to the Rev. Dr. Ed Volfe and his family and get ready to say hello to the Revs. Judith Reedy and Diane Presley and their families.

Judith and Diane are newly retired UM pastors with distinguished careers and a passion to do more where their gifts can be utilized for Christ's mission here. In 1998, Diane created Amigos Days while she was an Urban Missionary working for three District Superintendents, and she has been generous in giving 10 hours per week in leadership for our growing focus on mission. Judith was associate pastor here at FUMC Plano from 1997-2002, and she will be working half-time beginning July 1 in pastoral care and worship leadership.

Both share a friendship, a strong faith and a love for mission to the community. Thank you in advance for welcoming these pastors and colleagues in ministry.

Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community,

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Father’s Day and Every Day

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Addressing the 40 or so people who gathered over Father’s Day weekend for my dad’s memorial service, I thanked them for coming and said, “Who my sisters and I are and what we have accomplished are, in large measure, a function of who you are and who have variously been for each of us. Thank you for that.” What was true for our gathered family and friends was of course true for Dad and Mom: who they were and who they were for us largely shaped who we are and what we have accomplished. Father’s Day weekend was the right time but not the only time to say, “Thank you, Dad ... and Mom.”

Much of our leisure time over the summer will involve family and friends dear to us. I invite you, in the midst of the fun and leisure, to be intentional and say directly and clearly to them how formative they have been for your life, how significantly they have shaped your thought, how deeply they have impacted the way you feel. You may be surprised at the response you get. But we do not say these things for that reason. We say them because it is important and it is important for them to hear. It affirms a person’s life has made a difference in another person’s life – yours. That offering of truth is a gift that will not readily be forgotten. It is truth that does not have to wait for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day or a birthday. It can be given every day.

Here’s to more truth-telling this summer!

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Welcoming the Stranger

Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. -Leviticus 19:34

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Senior Pastor Rachel Baughman of Oak Lawn UMC in Dallas received 55 asylum-seeking people from Central America last week. They will stay for a few nights of care and nurture before they move to their sponsoring families elsewhere in the U.S. where they await their respective hearings.

Our Church Council agreed unanimously to stand by to assist in ways that are helpful, including the collection of toiletry items to give to other UMC’s like Oak Lawn. The Rev. Andy Lewis, our Bishop’s assistant and a part of our church, is keeping us apprised of helpful next steps. I am grateful for his keen coordination at the Conference level and the Rev. Diane Presley’s coordination at our local church level. This is one example of how our North Texas Conference is mobilizing to receive the immigrant into our lives. Stay tuned for how you can assist in this border and humanitarian crisis.

To be clear:

  • These asylum-seeker families are completely vetted and lawful and coordinated at the border by Customs and Border Patrol.

  • Most of them are fleeing crushing poverty and violence in Guatemala and Honduras.

  • These sisters and brothers are families; there are no unaccompanied children or youth.

  • Their stays at local churches, mostly in Dallas, are brief.

Thank you in advance for your prayers for pastors like Rachel and churches like Oak Lawn who, like us, are “wired” to open their hearts and doors to those in need. It is opportunities like these that make me proud to be part of this Wesleyan connection, always seeking to spread, “scriptural holiness” across the land and across borders, uniting people as God’s children.

Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community,

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One Church - a Glorious Inheritance

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80, 100 and 1.

For me, these were the significant numerical takeaways from Annual Conference just completed yesterday.

80% was the approval vote of both laity and clergy for our Conference to act as a One Church Conference, giving each church the permission to behave in ways regarding LGBTQ persons the way that church and pastor deem appropriate to the gospel and their mission field. 

100% of the delegates elected to General Conference from our North Texas Conference, both laity and clergy, are of the centrist position that seeks to keep all persons at the table in the vital discussions to be had at General Conference in 2020. We are the only Conference thus far to be this strong in this centrist stance.

1 is the inheritance given to all by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul speaks passionately about this in Romans 8:14-17. He is partially addressing the question by Jewish Christians about those deemed outsiders to their long-held customs and beliefs. In writing this letter (his last and most developed theological thought) Paul makes the case that NOTHING can separate us - any of us - from the singular love of God in Christ Jesus. I will be talking more about that this Sunday, but for now I offer God thanks for being part of a Conference who believes it, and of a church who lives it.

Grateful to be your pastor,

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Covering Bases and Self Care

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In softball and baseball at all levels, teams relentlessly practice "covering the base." This means that when one defensive player gets pulled away from a base, e.g. chasing a fly ball, another player knows that she or he must cover that base in order to get the opposing player out. The same is true in the church.

When one pastor is out, the other knows it is her or his responsibility to cover the pastoral responsibilities. I have practiced this for years with my colleagues on staff because it is important that each of us take time away from the "base" called the church in order to retreat and renew before returning. As Ed transitions to McKinney and another pastor transitions in, I will be covering bases variously through the summer to preach, teach, administrate, conduct funerals, counsel for weddings, visit hospitals, and more. I will also take short breaks away to memorialize my father in Houston and spend snippets of time away with family for retreat and renewal before returning refreshed. I have also automated our financial giving because the work of our church goes on whether I am physically here or not.

Camps, mission trips, choir tour, Vacation Bible School, Pops Concert, and refurbishing the Sanctuary all make the church a busy place throughout the summer. Covering the bases with our support by stepping up while practicing self-care at the same time is essential for a balanced and winning life. I wish both for you and yours this summer.

Grace, peace and prayer,

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Working as Missionaries

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After graduating with my Plano Leadership class Tuesday night, I was talking with classmate Lori Schwarz who is the Director of Neighborhood Services for the City of Plano. I thanked her for her department’s cooperation with us in the Love Where You Live program that was part of our Mission Together three weeks ago. Her eyes went wide with excitement as she explained that there are any number of older/disabled adults who have trouble keeping up with their houses and yards and benefit from assistance from groups like ours. In fact, that work of partnerships occurs the second Saturday of every month all around Plano. I told Lori that I assumed she might make an exception and allow us to do that on a third or forth Saturday in conjunction with our next Mission Together weekend.  She assured me that the answer was YES.

Thanks to the work of Alan Johnson, Leslie Harris, Debbie Ison, and the Rev. Diane Presley, people have asked, “When are we going to do that again?”  By that, they are quick to say, they mean months – not a year away. That is exciting. We are embracing the theology that mission is not an event, but a way of life, and that not a committee but a whole church are missionaries, just as Jesus and his disciples were. It is a shift in our way of thinking and it is a shift closer to the kingdom of God as Jesus preached and lived it.

Thank you all for your leadership as missionaries. Stay tuned for the next Saturday and Sunday when we all work together Connecting God and Grace to Self and Community!

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Graduare – ‘take a degree’

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"Graduare" is the Latin root for the verb "graduate." Actually taking a degree from a teacher, professor, principal, or Superintendent is, of course, the last (and most celebrative) step of what is a long journey of study, testing, writing, reviewing, and grading; it is the investment of our very lives over the course of years. I am very glad we will have many opportunities to celebrate this joyous last step with several in our church.

Working backwards on the calendar:

  • Next week I will be blessing a number of our youngest disciples graduating from our Weekday Program in a ceremony here at the church.

  • This Sunday at the 8:30 a.m. worship service, we will lift up, bless and celebrate our high school seniors who have been a significant part of our ministry together.

  • And before that, on Saturday, May 18, a number of us will be in the Sanctuary at Highland Park UMC to celebrate Ed Volfe "taking his degree" – a Doctorate of Ministry from the Perkins School of Theology, SMU. Ed has worked long and hard to achieve this distinction. We on staff are ever so proud and happy for him. Several of us will be in the balcony at Highland Park for a good view and to make our presence known to Ed. All are invited to attend. If you come, plan to arrive no later than 1:30 p.m. After that, seats are single and sparse.

John Wesley reminds us that we are "going on to perfection" in love as we grow in grace. Learning is lifelong. However, it is important at points along the way to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Congratulations to all our graduates!

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