Ready or Not

All through my first year in seminary, as we studied our way through the Bible, sussing out the meaning of events and the people who lived them, one of my profs would invariably say, “see, again, God calls people who aren’t ready.”  Moses was a young man with a stutter; God said, “Go speak to Pharaoh and liberate my people from slavery.”  David was the youngest son, a kid really; God sent him out to fight the giant.  Paul was on the wrong side of the aisle; God called him to preach Christ.  Abraham.  Hannah.  The Disciples of Jesus.  The list is long and amazing.

For 400 years the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt.  Their lives were awful.  When Moses led them into freedom, I doubt they felt ready; I can just imagine the grumbling that went on under thousands of breathes.  Once in the wilderness the grumbling grew into complaining: we don’t like it out here; we want to go back.  It took them 40 years of wandering in the wild before they were ready to enter the Promised Land.

People in churches all across America today are caught up in the same kind of wandering and confusion.  Ready or not, we’re in the wilderness.  Our faith, our ways of being with God and with each other, these don’t make sense today the way they used to.  A few churches may still practice magical thinking—we’re doing just fine the way we are.  But for them the real challenge is: deep change or slow death.  In most churches the challenge is: rapid deep change or rapid death.

The good news is—the Christian faith is all about catalyzing change.  Check out these words from His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Christian World:

Even though our faith may be 2000 years old, our thinking is not.  True progress is a balance between preserving the essence of a certain way of life and changing things that are not essential.  Christianity was born a revolutionary faith, and we have preserved that…Paradoxically, we have succeeded in not changing the faith that is itself dedicated to change.

In my church we’re having grown-up conversations about that.  How do we preserve the essence of the Christian life: loving God, loving neighbor, seeking justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God?  How do we keep the faith while having the courage to let go of non-essentials?  Is this particular building essential?  This logo?  This hymnbook?  This administrative structure?  In my faith tradition founder John Wesley never set out to create the Methodist Church; his objective was to live a Christian life.  The church establishment called him a dangerous revolutionary.

I’m praying for the revolutionaries to join forces with us as we dream new dreams and realize new possibilities.  That not only sounds essential and true to the faith, it also sounds like fun.

david gilliam, faith united methodist church, austin.  for more about faith church, click here.


Howdy, Partner!

Mandi Richey, Community Minister

I’m not from Texas, but there’s something inviting about the way Texans greet one another. They say, “Hey y’all,” or “How y’all doin’?” or sometimes they say “Howdy, partner.” As the new community minister at Faith United Methodist Church on South Lamar, I just wanted to say, “howdy, partners.”  Partners in ministry, that is.

What does it mean to be a partner? A partner is a person who shares or is associated with another in some action or endeavor.” A partner is a sharer.

We are a community at Faith.  We share common beliefs and common goals. One of our goals is to be relevant in our community. So how do we do that? We partner. We connect. We want to make our presence known in the community. We don’t just want to be “the church with the great preschool” or “that church next to Matt’s El Rancho”. What do we want to be known for? Don’t we want to be known as “the church that helps people” or “the church that cares about South Austin”?

Connection. Community. Partnering. Kinda reminds me of this image: 

We are driven by love. Love for God, love for others and love for ourselves. We want to be a loving and caring community. This is a great goal. But notice how the hands are extending outward from the heart? We need to extend, too. Into our community. Each hand can represent a connection we make in our community. Each hand can be a partnership we make with an elementary school or local restaurant. Together we will reach out our hands into our community with love.

As community minister, I can help to find things we can do. I can help us to find places where we can get out and serve the community. But I can’t do this community ministry work without you. I need you to partner with me. It has to be the whole Faith community reaching out, not just one person. You are the ones who live and work in the surrounding community. You are the ones who can see the needs of the community. It might be mulching trees or handing out water bottles or simply offering a smile.

Being part of a community is a coming together for unity. Come – unity. In a community, each person brings something different to the table. We each have different gifts to share. So let us all use whatever gifts we have to help and serve. Not everyone is gifted at tutoring students, but I bet someone is. Not everyone is good at cooking, but I bet a few of you are. Not everyone can be an organizer, but I’ll bet there’s one or two among you.

When we reach out our hands to partner with the community because of the love we have for God and for each other, community connections happen. Partnerships are born and nurtured and grown.

I look forward to partnering with you!

Howdy, partner!