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Are We There Yet?

A vehicle plows into a group of counter-protesters marching in Charlottesville. Credit: Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress

A vehicle plows into a group of counter-protesters marching in Charlottesville.
Credit: Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress

These words are often recalled during this time of the year as the persistent inquiries of impatient children. However, as I watched the coverage of the incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia, these words more aptly describe the frustrations of those who have personally witnessed and experienced the troubling times that beset the United States 50 years ago. These words also express the horror of those who were not alive 50 years ago. If we were to observe the footage from Charlottesville in black and white, the images from 2017 eerily parallel those from the 1950s and 1960s.

The question, “are we there yet?” reflects both a lament and a hope. For some, it decries the ideology of those who embrace the words and actions of white supremacists who seek to ‘take the country back’ to a time in which unbridled violence was the tactic frequently used to terrorize American citizens who simply desired the constitutional promises of our democracy. For others, the question “are we there yet?” provides the strength for the continued pursuit of the goal of justice and peace.

On Sunday morning, millions of people across our nation will gather in places of worship and attempt to understand the hate-filled words and actions that we have seen and experienced. They will listen intently for words that will remind them of the promise of the triumph of good over evil. Most importantly, children will listen for words of assurance that our journey leads to a better place. These words will be heard not only in the sermons that are preached, but also in the songs that will be sung and the prayers that will be spoken.

The question, “are we there yet?” must be transformed from a general inquiry into a personal reflection. While there is already much conversation about what others have or have not said, a more important question is perhaps best captured in the title of the last book that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote over 50 years ago “Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community.” Clearly, we are not there yet. Your words and actions will help determine the direction of our journey. How will you help minimize chaos and move toward community?

As Christians, we follow the journey of Jesus that leads to peace. We engage in the acts that reflect both justice and mercy. We proclaim a message that demonstrates grace and we share a love that builds. Perhaps we are not there yet, but a more poignant question is “are you there yet?”

Our condolences are extended to the family of the pedestrian who was killed and the many others who were injured in Charlottesville. We are also praying for the families of the troopers who were killed in the helicopter accident.

For Whom Do You Pray?

blog_praying togetherWho do you pray for most frequently? Family, friends, neighbors, colleagues? Those who don’t seem to love you as much as you love them? How often do you pray for your enemies? When you talk to God about your enemies, what do you want God to do? Soften your heart? Make it easier for you to forgive and forget? “Remove” your enemies? 

We will discuss this question during the worship services Sunday. Do your prayers need to increase, change, or both?

Come now and let us reason together saith the Lord (Isaiah 1:18).

“Where Do You Pray?”

blog_praying together“Where Do You Pray?” is the title of the second sermon in the HUMC series on our September theme “Praying Together”.  To help us prepare, share with me your answers to a few questions:

  • Where is your favorite place to pray? Perhaps, an even more provocative question is “where is your least favorite place to pray?” Some may reply ‘my least favorite place to pray is any place someone asks me to lead the prayer!’
  • Are you more comfortable praying in public or privately? Do you pray before meals? Only at home or even in restaurants?
  • Are there places where we should not pray?

Let’s continue the conversation in the sanctuary Sunday morning during the 8:30 and 10:30 worship services. I’m looking forward to seeing you.

-Rev. Dr. Jon E. McCoy

Christian Conferencing

By Rev. Dr. Jon McCoy

Christian Conferencing is one of the phrases that will immediately spark delight in the eyes of “a good United Methodist.” Those deeply steeped in the historic language of the denomination will quickly recall that Christian Conferencing is one of the means of grace that John Wesley identified. Any phrase that includes the word conference is vaguely familiar even to those who are among the uninitiated regarding the vast array of Methodist acronyms, symbols, and other esoteric identifiers. While not every member of a United Methodist congregation longs for the opportunity to attend the annual conference, most members of a Methodist congregation have heard the words Charge Conference. During the 2016 session of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, I braced myself for the journey to find my assigned table at the opening session. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the numbering system was easy to follow. The lay members to annual conference and the clergy were seated at round tables with six to eight chairs. It appeared that people from various churches were randomly assigned and at various points during the annual conference, we were invited to engage in conversations with those with whom we were seated.

blog_mccoy_whoismyneighborAt the table to which I was assigned were two members from Sycamore UMC, a member of Princeton UMC, St. Mark UMC, and Baker Memorial UMC. (I was the only clergy person at the table.) Although we had already introduced ourselves to each other as we gathered around the table at the beginning of the opening session, it was during the Bible Study that it seemed that we really began to talk in more detail about some of the exciting things that were happening in our local churches. As the dialogue continued, I realized that we were engaging in and experiencing Christian Conferencing. It seemed that we began to look forward to breaks in the proceedings to resume our conversations about the ministries that were occurring in our local churches. It wasn’t long before we began to discuss the need to continue these conversations and to make plans to visit each other’s congregation.

One of the benefits and purposes of the annual conference is opportunity to engage in dialogue and to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit through the ministries of the various congregations of the conference. During the conversations at our table, there was much conversation about ministries with the youth and the young adults in our respective congregations.  Some remarked that the youth from their church had attended the special activities for youth that were offered during the annual conference. Others remarked that their congregation was in the process of restructuring their youth ministries. While others noted that their youth were out of the country participating in an international mission trip that included youth from various congregations throughout their community.

During the annual conference, there were several references to the decisions made at the general conference to instruct the bishops to form a special commission to provide leadership to the general church to resolve the debates regarding human sexuality. While discussions regarding human sexuality have been discussed during the general conference for over 40 years, these discussions have occurred in annual conferences, charge conferences, and table discussions for probably far longer periods of time. In addition to writing “Eight Principles for Holy Conferencing”, Bishop Sally Dyck has hosted several conversations throughout the conference to help facilitate dialogues regarding human sexuality. The recent massacre at the Pulse (the nightclub in Orlando that was popular among the Latino LGBT community) has (re-)introduced (or, at least heightened) the need for more conversation about the various dimensions of human sexuality and the response from various institutions in society. In an article entitled “Means of Grace: Christian Conferencing” that appeared in the Interpreter magazine, Emily Snell notes that Dyck writes in her study guide that “holy conferencing is not limited to a specific topic or a specific venue for decision-making. It is also not a strategy to shut down conversation or stifle impassioned speech. It is a means for staying connected to each other in spite of our differences.”

Although there are vastly differing opinions regarding which are the most pressing issues facing our denomination, the Church, society, youth, families, etc., there are tremendous opportunities for the development of collaborative strategies to identify and address these issues. Emily Snell also quotes Steve Manskar, the director of Wesleyan leadership at the General Board of Discipleship, in her article regarding Christian Conferencing. Manskar noted that “the goal of Christian conferencing is illustrated in the final words of the baptismal covenant when “the pastor says to the congregation, ‘I commend this person to your loving care; do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.’”

These words parallel the concluding instructions from the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13 in which he writes, “now faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.” These words, their meaning and their context may not be well known or fully appreciated. Similarly, the covenant that is established between the congregation and the child being baptized or the youth being confirmed may need additional clarification. More than mere words or a symbolic ceremony, the pastor establishes a lifelong connection between the congregation and the child/youth.

In the years to come, the table conversations from the succeeding annual conferences will slowly fade from memory and the youth will hopefully become adults who will continue the process of engaging in Christian Conferencing for the benefit of local congregations, the Church, their communities, and beyond. However, before we wistfully dismiss the possibilities and promises of today, I pray that the plans that were begun to connect the congregations around the table and throughout the conference will continue to be pursued. As the youth participate in conference and district-sponsored mission opportunities, I hope that meaningful dialogues will occur during which we will listen more passionately than we speak. A conference, whether annual conference, charge conference, or Christian conference, should be eagerly anticipated as an opportunity to connect and grow.

A Response To The Orlando Massacre

Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

(from “No Man is an Island” by John Donne)

Dear HUMC Members and Friends,

The words of John Donne reflect the weight and context of grief that he bore in response to the deaths that he had witnessed and acknowledged. As a nation and as members of humanity, we grieve collectively as we learn more details of another senseless act of violence that bears the infamous distinction of being the largest loss of life resulting from gun violence. We are gripped by perplexing questions: Why? How many more lives will be lost? What could have possibly fueled such unbridled rage and hatred? How will we respond?

The victims were not chosen randomly. They were patrons of a nightclub popular among members of the LBGT community. Some have feebly sought a rationale for the lone gunman’s rage. Some have suggested religious extremism. Others have blamed underlying mental health issues as being responsible for the domestic violence exhibited during his brief marriage and ultimately, the unimaginable mayhem unleashed on complete strangers.

Blog_rev mccoy_orlando shooting responseRegardless of the wide-ranging speculation, one fact is certain–sadly, we’ve been here before. Stories of random acts of gun violence have become so commonplace that they hardly garner much attention. The incident at “The Pulse” in Orlando feels different, but so did Columbine, so did Emmanuel AME, so did Gabby Giffords, so did San Bernadino, and the list goes on. So what will change? We are all different now. We are a little less because of the inexplicable deaths of others. John Donne is right. We are a part of humanity and the life (and death) of any human impacts each of us.

We must not only examine the perpetrator’s targets, we must also examine his tactics and his tools. What was he trying to accomplish by shooting these innocent, defenseless individuals while wielding tools of war? How long had he possessed these specific weapons and what emotions did they generate? How can any civilian justify possessing a high-capacity, high-caliber weapon that is designed for a battlefield? The questions are endless and exhausting.

Yet, in the midst of hopelessness, despair, and grief that may seem inconsolable and acts that defy reason, we offer words of grace and signs of peace. Most importantly, we should engage in deeds of determined action to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood of any similar horrific acts. As people of faith, we honor every life that God has created. Amidst the continued carnage, bloodied bodies, and chaos, we stand as witnesses of the promises of God that we shall not all die, but we will all be changed.

How you and I respond to violence will make all the difference. Some have compared the responses to the attack in Orlando to the responses witnessed following the attacks on September 11 and the attack at Emmanuel AME church–the vile act of hatred that was intended to highlight differences resulted in the identification of similarities. Following the terrorist attacks September 11, there was a greater sense of patriotism and an increase in attendance in places of worship. Following the attack in South Carolina, there was a renewal of understanding regarding the historic role of the church. In both cases, the attacks were intended to destroy symbols of power and strength. However, the result was a resounding refrain reflecting the bold determination to persevere.

In the aftermath of Orlando, there will be a cacophony of voices offering explanations and analyses. As a people of faith, as a church, and as a denomination, we have the sacred obligation to offer witness to the source of our strength and light that helps us each day to stand. Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley penned the words to a powerful hymn of the church “Beams of Heaven” which remind us, “Harder yet may be the fight, right may often yield to might; wickedness a while may reign and Satan’s cause may seem to gain. There is a God who rules above with a hand of power and a heart of love; if I am right, He’ll fight my battle, I shall have peace someday.”

We offer prayers for all of the victims and their families as they attempt to make sense of the senseless. We also offer prayers for unity, strength, safety, and peace for those who have become targets of inappropriate retaliatory actions.

In Christ,
Staff_Jon McCoy thumbnail smallRev. Dr. Jon E. McCoy
Senior Pastor
Office: (630) 325-1280

 

Photo credit above: Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

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