The parson decided to join some of the area pastors for coffee after the meeting broke up. One of the brothers had a connection with the manager and a section of the coffee emporium was reserved for the ordained. The parson took the rocking chair that split the difference between the two love seats and two arm chairs.
After several minutes of discussing the latest gossip of who was going to be moved where and why at the coming annual conference, the talk began to drift toward the proceedings taking place by the General Conference, the denomination's biggest deliberative body, the one that determined polity and doctrine down in Tampa, Florida.
“Hey, that proposal to limit the terms of bishops was really interesting,” said Ed Taylor, the pastor of the Church-Over-the-Hill-but-Bigger-Than-First-County-Seat.
“It sure was,” replied Tom Joiner, pastor of The Church of Lovely Solitude Beside the River of Gentle Flowing Waters. “You know, it didn't meet the two-thirds requirement, but the bishops must have gotten a wake-up call when it got a majority.”
“Well, I think the most crucial thing before the conference is the matter of our attitude toward gays,” said Sally Crenshaw, pastor of the We Know We're the Bottom of the Barrel So We're Glad to Have a Woman Pastor. “If we don't begin to act like Christians we'll be the laughing stock of the Christian community.”
The parson sipped his coffee, waiting for someone to bring up the issue that was on everyone's mind. Finally, Fred Harvey, a seminary student doing a project at the First County Church On the Other Side of the Mountain. “Don't you think the really significant issue is the removal of guaranteed appointments for elders?”
A silence draped itself around the group. The parson rocked and sipped.
“Well, frankly, I think it's a really good thing,” said Tina Robertson, a fresh out of seminary student. “Everyone needs to be held accountable.”
“That's true,” replied Monty Harrelson, who was serving his fourteenth appointment in thirty years, “but you have to be aware this opens up the gate for some vindictive district superintendent to hound a person out of the ministry.”
The conversation on the elimination of the guaranteed appointment continued for another forty minutes. The parson, fascinated with the conversation decided to go against his better judgment and pay almost three dollars for another fifty cent cup of coffee. He sipped and observed and listened.
Finally the as the afternoon tiptoed up toward evening, the group began to break-up. The parson rose, stretched his aged muscles, and headed toward the vet's office to pick up Charlie Brown, his faithful canine companion. As he walked to the car the parson thought to himself: I hope I live long enough to see how this filters down.
It was the last day of the Annual Conference. The parson was
tired. This year he’d commuted the long distance from his home, and the wears
and tears of that were taking a toll on his aged body. With the determined gait
on a senior citizen dedicated to disguising the aches and pains of age, he
walked as briskly as possible toward the parking deck.
As he walked he could not help but reflect upon the church.
All these years, all these conferences, all these bishops and superintendents,
all the new initiatives, all the reforming programs, and, in many ways, the
church was still where it was that day Bishop John Owen Smith laid his hand
upon his head and spoke to words of ordination. “Gracious,” thought the parson,
“that was way back in the last century.”
At an intersection he stopped to heed the pedestrian “don’t
walk” signal. There were no cars evident. He could have walked against the
light with no trouble. But being law-abiding provided a respite from his hike.
His eye wandered to the opposite corner. Ronald Wilson stood there waiting,
also, for the light to change.
The parson had known Ronald since he was ordained, two years
after the parson. Ronald was one of those never seen servants of the Lord. As
far as the parson knew, Ronald had never served on a big committee; Ronald had
never, in fact, served a church with more than 200 members; Ronald had never
written an article; never given a speech in support of or against any matter to
come before the conference. Ronald was one of those folks who was sent from
church to church to church at a more frequent rate than his peers. Ronald was
not master of homiletic. Ronald’s sermons, while theologically sound and
wonderfully crafted on paper, dissolved into boredom when he delivered them. After
the first year among them congregations began to make noise to the church
masters that a change in pastoral leadership might be of more benefit to their
Ronald would move; he would move without any animosity in
his heart, but with thanksgiving for the friends he’d made and the folks he’d
been allowed to serve. Ronald would set up shop in the next church as though it
were the first he’d ever served.
Ronald had his faults. But not one member of the
congregation ever went to the hospital, locally or far away, when Ronald was
not at their bedside. Not one teen broke up with the love of their life without
Ronald recognizing the wound and trying to help heal the heart. Not one
alcoholic was ignored, not one destitute not clothed, not one hungry not fed …..The list went on.
The parson looked at Ronald standing there talking on his
cell phone. He had a smile on his face. The parson had no doubt he was celebrating
with whoever listened on the other end the wonderful opportunity to which he
was being sent one last time.
The parson remembered years ago when he was in the hospital
with tubes stuck into his body and a long gash from his sternum to his gut as
the result of the exploratory surgery to save his life. When he woke Ronald was
there. The parson remembered the operation on the carotid artery a year later.
When he woke Ronald was there. The parson remembered when his wife died and he
sat devastated in the hospital, Ronald was there. Ronald wasn’t especially the
parson’s friend, but Ronald was there.
The light turned. Ronald walked up his side of the street.
The parson walked up his side of the street.The parson watched Ronald. Suddenly, with the experience of the aged,
the parson came to the conclusion that, when he attended the next conference, and
people asked how to save the church, how to make the church more relevant, how
to empower the church to be more like Christ, he’d rise to the occasion, walk
to the microphone, and say, “Bishop, as a point of personal privilege, I would like
to suggest we ask Ronald about that.”
The parson had secured a corner of the room occupied by the
book store at a break during the annual conference of his denomination.
Obscured in his corner he had time to engage in his favorite pastime of people
During the Executive Session of the Clergy, the presiding
bishop in a pitch for a wellness program of the denomination had made remarks
that being overweight was a tremendous health problem. He had suggested the
clergy should have courage to approach overweight brothers and sisters of the
cloth an in love tell them they were overweight and should take better care of
themselves. The parson now sat in his corner watching the parade of expanded
waists pass by as he contemplated the bishop’s departure from preaching to
enter the realm of meddling.
The parson wasn’t aware if it was her voice or the fact she
wasn’t a candidate to whom someone needed to relay the bishop’s admonition in
love. She was a walking exhibition of wellness.
“Shopping for some preaching books?” her friend asked her
after their mutual greeting.
“Actually, I’m in here to buy a Bible,” she replied.
“Yes, they told us we needed to bring a Bible with us when
we were ordained. So, at the meeting they had with us this morning, they asked
me if I brought a Bible. I said ‘sure’ and held up by iPhone. They looked at me
like I was crazy. And then they asked me again if I brought a Bible. I showed
them my iPhone again. And then I showed them the apps with the three
translations I keep on it. Two of them whispered together and then they told me
they thought a traditional Bible might be more appropriate than holding my
The parson watched her walk over to the cashier to pay for
her traditional Bible. As he did he pulled his iPhone from the belt holster,
turned it on and touched the icon to bring up The Message. He read a couple of verses at random as he again felt
young, contemporary, and thin.
The parson was sorting the mail at the church office when
Horace Owen Tolliver, II, affectionately known to the elders as 2Hot, called
his name from inside the church.
“In here; in the office,” shouted the parson, recognizing
In just a few seconds, 2Hot walked into the study.
“Hey, Parson, are you going to at the Annual Conference?”
“I’ll be there first thing in the morning for the Clergy
Executive Meeting, 2Hot,” said the parson.
“Where are you staying?”
“I’m staying at home,” said the parson.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m going in the morning and then I’ll decide what sessions
I’m going to attend,” the parson informed him. “If I think I need to stay for
the whole thing, I’ll find a place, but I doubt that will be the case.” The parson’s
retired status relieved him of the requirement to attend all sessions. “I’m
just picking up a few things in the unlikely event I stay overnight.”
2Hot during this was moving about and taking an inventory of
the parson’s office. He paused beside a side table and picked up a three ring
binder with an attractive cover. It was the conference’s handbook.
“What do you think of the handbook this year?” 2Hot asked.
“What do you mean?” asked the parson.
“Well, did you read the reports?”
“I read the whole thing, 2Hot.”
“What did you think of it?”
“What did I think of 171 pages of reports?”
“Well, actually I was just talking about the handbook.”
The parson studied 2Hot for a minute. There was something he
wasn’t connecting with.
“Is there something particular about the handbook I should
notice?” asked the parson.
“Well, the cover, how did you like that?”
The parson took the handbook from 2Hot and examined the
cover with an art piece depicting Jacob and the angels moving up and down the
“Are you talking about the art work?” asked the parson.
“Actually, Parson, I’m talking about the theme: “From
Ordinary to Extraordinary; Wake Up and See Where God Is Moving”. I came up with
“Well, congratulations,” said the parson. “I wasn’t aware
that was your contribution.”
“Yeah, what do you think of it?”
“I guess you’re the one who motivated me to make the trip,
2Hot. ‘Wake Up and See Where God Is Moving,’ I’m going to the conference to
plead that God not move away.”
Graphic: Cover Art 2010 Annual Conference Session, North Georgia Conference,
United Methodist Church, Handbook.
The parson sat with two colleagues at his favorite diner. The table they shared was clear except for the coffee mugs in front of each. The two pastors, one male, one female, across from the pastor were in their mid-fifties and served churches in the same district as the parson.
Evelyn, the career server and sneaky monitor of the parson’s cholesterol intake, had provided the table in the back of the diner for their meeting and was keeping the coffee mugs filled. The subject of the morning’s discussion was getting more participation of the area churches in the homeless ministries.
Ben Andrews, a young pastor, two years out of seminary, had been eating on the other side of the room. His view of the parson’s table had been blocked by the buffet table in the center of the facility. As he paid his tab, he noticed the pastors in the back and came to greet them.
“Morning, Parson,” exclaimed Ben.
The parson acknowledged his presence and introduced him to the other pastors. Ben took the chair beside the parson.
“How are things going at Testing Ground of Naive New Pastors Who Have Been Told They Are Being Sent To A Great Opportunity United Methodist Church?” the parson asked.
“Great,” said Ben, “just great. We’re starting a new outreach program that I think is going to get us noticed. But I have to tell you, Parson, that it would be a lot easier if the denomination made resources more available to us for this. What is needed is for the church to ....”
Ben went on to explain to the parson and the other clergy the shortcomings of the current support of the smaller churches and gave them a three point presentation on how this could be remedied.
“Sound’s like you’ve really thought this out,” said the male pastor across from the parson.
“I have, sir,” said Ben. “I’m sure as we come to understand the nature of the small congregation throughout the conference we’ll find movement in that direction.”
“It’s good to hear you’re excited about your ministry,” the parson intoned. “By the way, I was talking to Edwin Garrison the other day. He was bragging about your preaching.”
“Well, that’s nice to hear, Parson,” said Ben. “I really appreciate you telling me that.” There was a short pause before Ben jumped on this bandwagon. “You know, Parson, we need to develop a more comprehensive sermon helper program that follows the lectionary for the General Church. I mean the internet is full of sermon aids, but it seems to me we have to come up with our own site that provides this and provides it so that as we follow the Revised Common Lectionary while uplifting denominational issues and causes. I know you’re friends with some of the delegates to the General Conference; I wish you’d bring this up to them. I’d be glad to give you some talking points on this.”
The female pastor said, “Would you want the General Church to tell you what to preach?”
“Oh, no, no, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to imply that.” From this Ben went on with a verbal thesis on freedom of the pulpit and the need for each pastor to follow the lead of the Spirit in the preaching, but that the sermon helps could be a reminder of denominational matters.
Soon after this Ben followed with his suggestions of a more effective use of the local church property being held by the General Church clause in the Discipline of the Church. That was followed by a discussion on the proper ways to empower the smaller church to maximize the potential of each member. And that was soon followed by an analysis of the appointive system and how this could better match each individual pastor to a particular church.
A mental alarm clock must have gone off in Ben’s head because he suddenly announced he had to leave. He was headed to a meeting with the local community volunteer organization where he was going to present some ideas on how to maximize the participation of the local governmental agencies.
The parson and his two colleagues watched Ben depart. Each seemed to relish the silence that was kicked up by his wake. Evelyn came and refilled their cups. Each took a long sip of their refreshened liquid.
“How long has he been serving a church?” asked the female pastor.
“Two years,” acknowledged the parson.
“He’s something else,” said the male pastor.
“I know,” said the parson, “he reminds me of myself.”
“Of yourself?” intoned his two friends in unison.
“Sure enough,” said the parson. “I seem to remember when I was his age I also knew everything.”
The parson sat staring at the eNewsletter from his episcopal area headquarters. The item which caught his attention was the announcement that pertained to the relocation of a district office. It seems the superintendent of one of the districts was moving his office to another location.
The parson stared at the new address. He was well aware of the location. It was a business park slap dab in the middle of some really high priced real estate in one of the most affluent areas of the conference. The parson being as ancient as he was made a connection that might not be readily apparent to those with less decades of observation.
The parson noted the former location of the district office for that particular district was near the home of the former district superintendent. And the office before that near the home of the former, former superintendent. And now the office was being moved to a location that was a good bit closer to the current district superintendent’s residence.
“Oh, good gracious, Self,” said the parson. “This has to be a coincidence.”
Self replied, “Sure!”
The parson sat back and thought of all the difficulty the churches were having meeting their denominational obligations. He thought particularly of the smaller churches such as the one he served and their faithful struggle to pay out 100% of the asking each year. He thought of the many smaller churches in the district where the office was being moved who had empty space, ready to be converted into spacious offices, which could be rented for the district office for less than half what would be paid in the office park. the rent from such in many cases would finance needed ministries. The funds from such in many cases would help pay a mortgage. And conceivably the money from the rent might make life more bearable for the least of those who walked within the shadow of the church
The parson thought and thought. The parson thought and thought. The parson thought and thought. The parson decided to retire. He couldn’t figure it out.
The Mission Statement of The United Methodist Church used to be: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
At the last General Conference that Mission Statement was changed to: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
I’ve been pondering this for months now. Maybe I’ll write something serious concerning it soon, but for now I’ll just say I’ve decided I’d prefer a different mission statement. My preference is: The mission of The United Methodist Church is to BE a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
The parson decided to participate in
the periodic gathering of the assembled clergy of his denomination in
the area he served. Every six weeks or so the overseer of the area
hosted the get-together at a restaurant central to the homes of the
gathered. It was one of those establishments with the all-all-you-can
eat cholesterol bars where the food sat in pans over steam tables.
The parson sat at the corner of the
tables pulled together for the event listening to the chatter
pastors. At one point an older member of the group brought up the new
mission statement of the denomination.
“I have to tell you,” he told the
brothers and sisters, “I was completely satisfied with the old
mission statement. I mean, 'The mission of the church is to make
disciples of Jesus Christ.' was a great statement, I thought. But
when they added the new phrase 'for the transformation of the world'
it got more purpose, more power.”
Ralph, a middle-aged pastor who had
come to the church as a second career, interjected, “I frankly did
not see anything wrong with the old statement. I cannot for the life
of me understand why eight years after coming up with the mission
statement they change it. Doesn't 'to make disciples of Jesus Christ'
imply it's for transforming the world?”
“Look,” injected Ben Wilson, “I
think we're missing the whole point here. The mission statement
should be, without a doubt, 'To make disciples of Jesus Christ for
the salvation, not the
transformation, of the world.' We are supposed to be bringing
salvation to the world. Using that word 'transformation' was nothing
more than avoiding the need to follow the commands of our Lord, to
bring the world to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.”
good grief, Ben,” said Ralph, “you and your altar call approach
to everything. Our task is to transform the world. All you're
interested in is having the organist play 'Just As I Am' until
somebody gets tired of hearing it comes to the altar to shut it up.”
take offense at that. How can you deny our task is the salvation of
the world?” questioned Ben.
transformation, good grief said the older cleric. 'To make disciples
of Jesus Christ,' is all we need to say. The rest is superfluous.”
turned to the parson, “So, Parson, what's your take on this? How
passionate are you about the new mission statement?”
parson replied, “I'm not that passionate about it, Ben.”
ha,” said Ben, turning toward the others with a smug look. “See,
the parson's for the salvation of the world.”
didn't say that, Ben.”
immediately responded, “But you said you weren't passionate about
the statement. Does that mean you don't like the transformation
not really excited about that, either, Ralph,” said the parson.
knew it,” the older pastor said. “Our generation leans toward the
2000 version of the mission statement.”
our generation might,” the parson responded. “But I don't really
find that paramount.”
do you think the mission statement should be, Parson?” asked Ralph
and Ben almost in a chorus.
parson paused a moment and then suggested, “How about: 'The mission
of the church is to BE a disciple of Jesus Christ.'”
while I usually try and keep this blog ecumenical, today it's United
tired. The little country church for which I'm am a retired supply pastor is
involved in activities this week that keep me away from home and
working hard about twelve to fourteen hours a day. It only runs for
ten days each year, but the days are exhausting. So be aware of my
being exhausted, which may account for part of the rant below.
the pastorate for a period of time to be in an institutional
ministry. When I came back into the local church much had changed. My
first clue to one of the avenues of change arrived with a letter and
an application. The letter informed me that if I desired to be on a
conference board or agency I would need to fill out the multi-page
application and send it in. Not wanting to appear foolish I called a
friend in the conference office.
Fred, I just got this letter saying I needed to fill out this form to
be considered for a conference agency or board.”
everyone gets that. If you want to be on one of the boards you need
to fill out the application.”
if I don't fill out the application?”
you won't be on any of the boards or agencies.”
the application into the trash. The result was that since I returned
to the pastoral ministry I've not served on any area board, agency or
The problem here is that other pastors threw that application into the trash. And they were actually some of the most qualified to be in those positions. Which means those boards, agencies, and committees are populated by those who wanted to be on boards, agencies, and committees. That's not in all cases wise.
when I arrived home exhausted, I found an email from my superior to the pastors of this area. He
stated that anyone who wanted to be a mentoring pastor to those
seeking candidacy for ordination should send in the proper
here's my rant: I'm retired now so there's no way in hell I'm going
to send in the requested application. And the truth of the matter is
were I not retired I probably would not send in the application. And
that's the shame of it.
are going to be scores of pastors who send in that application not
because they are the best qualified to mentor a candidate through the
process but because they want to be important. Ordination is too precious a journey to ask for volunteers to lead candidates through
the process. We should be selecting the mentors based on their
capacity for ministry, their caring hearts, their proven
effectiveness in ministry. My superior in the church should be
calling certain proven pastors and informing them: “You are going
to be a mentoring pastor.”
he's asking for volunteers. And guess who's going to volunteer.
were of the inclination to bring this up to those who run the process
now, those politically correct characters, they would inform me that
by selecting such people and not asking for volunteers might hurt the
feelings of some folks and limit our inclusiveness.
right now, tonight, tired and exhausted, my response would be, “Well
that's a start.”
Copyright The material on this site, unless otherwise noted, is the property of the author. Church-related use is permissible, but a small nod of the head in the direction of the author will be appreciated.