Sunday, August 10, 2008
Last week I celebrated my 59th birthday, so I thought I would write a column of personal privilege. I don’t know about you, but on my birthdays I always reflect back on what I have accomplished and look forward to what I hope to accomplish in the future. And for some odd reason the years ending in nine have been much more meaningful and life-changing for me than the ones ending in zero.
In 1968 when I was 19, I left the church. Throughout high school I had been very active in MYF (we weren’t united yet) and the church in general. I had entered college the previous year with the intent of going on to seminary, and becoming ordained. Consequently, I was asked to speak during the Student Sunday worship service. I spoke about what I had learned in Sunday school at that church; I spoke against the war and in favor of civil rights; I said war and racism are incompatible with Christianity. No one spoke to me after the service or for weeks to come. I was shunned, so I left.When I was 29, I started running, which I have been doing on and off ever since. I still run between 25-30 miles a week. I know that seems like a small change, but it has kept me healthier than I might otherwise have been.At 39, I again heard the call to ministry, began the process and entered seminary. I felt like I had been on the boat with Jonah for 20 years running away from God’s call. This was a major decision which affected my entire family. We all had to change our lifestyles significantly.
Ten years ago when I was 49, I went back to school to work on my doctorate, out of which came my first book on Faith and Politics, and led to my being more involved in politics.What will happen now that I’m 59? What life-changing decision will I make or will be made for me? How will I serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the next ten years?
As I have written previously, I love what I am doing. I always wanted to be a writer and now I am one. I have the largest congregation of United Methodists in Georgia. I reach over 20,000 people twice a month with the columns and stories I write and publish, a lot more people than I ever reached from the pulpit. Fortunately I do still get invited to preach at various churches on Sunday mornings. Of course with that large of a congregation comes the responsibility to be sure I write with honor and integrity, and I pray that I do. Perhaps this is the year I will work on becoming an evangelist. God continues to place on my heart the need to reach out to the least, the lost, and the forgotten in society especially those who, for whatever reason, the traditional church has failed to reach. I feel called to improve the lives of those beaten down by life; to give them hope and something to look forward to. The struggle as I see it is how do we remain true to what we believe, to the Scriptures and doctrines of the faith while at the same time being open, loving, accepting and respectful of those who need to hear our message? How do we reach those who have been hurt by the church in the past, and those who have rejected the church for what they think it believes?
Margaret and I rejoice to know that we are going to be able to keep Georgia on our minds! We are grateful that after eight wonderful years in the South Georgia Conference we are going to be remaining in this beautiful state. We look forward to our opportunity to serve our United Methodist sisters and brothers and all the people within the bounds of the North Georgia Conference.So many of you in South Georgia have been very gracious to us by your kind words and deeds throughout our ministry together and during these recent days of transition. So many of you in North Georgia already have showered a loving welcome upon us. We feel blessed indeed. Our hearts are glad, and we give thanks to God for these two great conferences in United Methodism.
Georgia is a very special place. Georgia was the American home of the founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley. Now Georgia is home to nearly 500,000 United Methodists - more than the entire Western Jurisdiction. Georgia has some of the strongest United Methodist institutions in the world. Georgia United Methodists are in global mission and ministry that is transforming the lives of countless precious children of God all over the planet. Georgia United Methodists have had a great past, have a great present and look toward an even greater future. Margaret and I are grateful to God that we will continue to serve our Lord Jesus Christ with you here in Georgia.Bishop Lindsey Davis was fortunate to serve in North Georgia for the last twelve years, Bishop James King is fortunate to be coming to South Georgia, and Margaret and I have the remarkably glorious good fortune to have served in South Georgia and now to be assigned to North Georgia. Yes, Georgia is still on our minds, in our hearts and in our prayers. We ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers as we complete our assignment in South Georgia and begin our ministry in North Georgia.
Driving to my office, I saw a bumper sticker which caused me to wince. It read, “The More You Complain the Longer God Lets You Live.” Little did I know the sticker was an omen for my day. Before nine o’clock, a man called asking for help. “You know my mama,” he said. “She complains about everything, and now she’s complaining about the car I’ve bought for her.” “What did you buy?” I asked. “A Mercury Grand Marquis,” he said. Then, he explained, “She’s ninety years old and I don’t want her driving at all, but she refuses to give up her car; so, I got one I thought was safe.” He then made his plea for my help: “Would you mind making a pastoral visit to help smooth the waters with her?” Now, I knew better, but on this day I chose to ignore the way of wisdom (some would say common sense) and dashed off on this fool-hearted errand.I found Miss Sarah and asked about her new car. She muttered her dissatisfaction. I told her I drove a Mercury Grand Marquis and loved it. As I began to point out the car’s safety features, she held up her hand and said, “Now you can stop right there! I know why you’re here, and you’re wasting your time.” With dripping sarcasm, she added, “I’m so glad you like your car. But as far as I’m concerned those things have ‘Old Fart’ written all over them, and I’m not having one. My son knows what I want and I mean to get it!” Having been dissed by a ninety year old, my first thought was, “I really need to think about trading my car.” I managed to ask, “What exactly do you want Miss Sarah?” Her response was immediate: “I want a red convertible! I want to feel the wind in my hair when I drive!” I listened in amazement. Sarah was a life-long free spirit. She was an artist and concert pianist. At age ninety, she wanted to feel the wind in her hair as she drove.
After a polite retreat, I called her son to report my failure and suggested he go with the red convertible. “I was afraid you were going to say that,” he replied with a voice of resignation. For three years before her death, I delighted in seeing Sarah drive her red convertible around town, with her hair blowing in the wind. She never got a traffic ticket or had so much as a fender-bender. She knew what she wanted and she was not about to give in to the prejudices directed toward seniors—-even if it meant being branded a “complainer.” Sarah blessed me with a new vision for aging. I desperately want to live to be ninety and fight my son for a red convertible! Let him call me a “complainer” all he wants. Those of us who have the wind blowing in our hair as we drive will probably outlive them all.
Rev. Robert Beckum is Vice President of Church Relations and Development of Magnolia Manor.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Has the United Methodist Church lost its focus? Have we strayed too far from our Wesleyan roots? Have we become the “dead church” John Wesley feared we would, devoid of passion? Have we forgotten the one condition Wesley required of those desiring admission to the Methodist societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.”?Apparently the organizers of the 2008 Southeast Jurisdictional Conference believe we have or are about to. The theme of the Conference was “Living the United Methodist Way.” To help those attending understand what that means, they added four teaching session to the schedule. The sessions were led by noted scholars in the field of Wesleyan theology, and they were the best part of the conference.
Sure, the conference elected a Bishop, passed a budget, reorganized the structure of the Jurisdiction, and made Episcopal assignments. But they do that all the time. The teaching reminded us of why we were there, and what it means to be a United Methodist in the Wesleyan tradition. It is too easy to forget sometimes when we get wrapped up in the business of the church and attending to the details.Throughout the sessions we were reminded that to be Wesleyan we needed doctrine, spirit, and discipline. We must have an understanding of God; we must know the stories of the one who came to dwell among us; they need to be in our bones so they can shape us. We learned that Wesley’s core doctrine was that God is a God of universal grace and love. That Wesley read the scripture through the lens of 1 John; it affected the way he interpreted everything else. Plus, we were reminded that the original purpose of the Methodist movement was to spread scriptural holiness. But somewhere along the line we have lost that goal. As one of the instructors stated, “Our zeal to bring people into the church led to the neglect of the house itself,” which he said was holiness and moving to perfection. As one former Bishop asked, “If you aren’t going to perfection, where are you going?”
Too many United Methodists have lost the passion for the faith. Too many of the sermons I have heard lately have been nice stories: entertaining but not inspiring. They lacked a sense of urgency. We need preachers who have a passion for the faith, who themselves “desire to flee from the wrath to come,” and who want to take as many people with them as possible.No, I am not saying we need a lot of hell, fire and brimstone preaching. But we do need preaching that will change peoples’ lives. Preaching that will let people know that God loves them, and will help them to change their life circumstances if necessary. Preaching that is inspired by the Holy Spirit. As Christians we need to reach down into the darkness of the world, into the muck and mire of people’s lives and help lift them up into the light of the faith. We need to get over the idea that talking about Jesus, or our faith is somehow politically incorrect. We need to emphasize the spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture reading/study, fasting, tithing, and service.
And, perhaps most importantly, we need to learn how to tell one another with love when we have left the narrow way that leads to salvation, and begun wandering off in the wilderness again. Church is about community; sharing our lives, our hopes, our sorrows with one another; and helping one another move toward perfection.
Having completed the work of the various committees of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference and heard reports, voted on restructure, approved the budget, and accepted the nominating committee’s report of delegates selected to serve on various boards and agencies representing SEJC; Friday evening’s program was filled with anticipation and excitement. In contrast to the Catholic tradition of white smoke from the chimney proclaiming a new pope elected, Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference had elected a new bishop on Thursday and moved on to the assignment of bishops which was the highlight yet to be seen and heard. We had a lively preliminary celebration which began with a performance by the energetic and talented VOY, “Voices of Youth” from the Virginia Conference followed by the world-renown Junaluska Singers.After much wonderful music and entertainment, the Stuart Auditorium fell silent as the Episcopacy Committee Chair Joe Whittemore read the bishops’ assignments.
With that, suspense was put to rest though the memory lingers of the many preemptive conversations and suppositions of who ~ but who ~ would be the new bishop. To our delight in North Georgia, we will have the great opportunity to be in ministry and get to know and love Bishop Michael Watson and his lovely wife, Margaret. At the reception on Friday evening, district lay leaders and district superintendents presented the Watsons with meaningful gifts significant of the area they represent. It was a great time of “meet and greet” for the new Episcopal family with the North Georgia delegation, friends and guests. As Bishop Watson assumes his assignment on September 1st, the family will settle into the new Episcopal residence in the Roswell area which will be only a short commute to the Methodist Center at Simpsonwood.
During this same timeframe, the North Georgia Conference Board of Laity will have transitioned with new leadership for the quadrennium. I, along with the four associate conference lay leaders, (Ron Davis, Mathew Pinson, Dianne Spencer and Dianne Traynham) am ramping up for exciting new ministry. The four Board of Laity sponsored programs will serve as our springboard and we are seeking persons to train and promote for district and conference leadership roles. We will rely heavily upon our four at-large members of the Board representing the Asian, Hispanic and African-American communities to assist in this effort to equip persons for servant leadership.
I invite you to visit our Board of Laity web pages on the North Georgia Conference web site: www.ngumc.org. There are many opportunities for emerging leaders to become knowledgeable of Methodist tradition and polity, group dynamics and opportunities for ministry through Leadership UMC; for persons with a call for lay ministry/mission and need to discern answers for the where and what questions, there is Lay Missionary Training; to enhance one’s personal skills and knowledge in speaking and serving in ministry through storytelling, bible study and other outreach, there is Lay Speaking Ministry; and through the utilization of one’s acquired skills, we assist churches in image, finance, music, evangelism and other areas of concern through Lay Revitalization Ministry. Seminars are forming now for this fall, so additional information is available through your district or associate conference lay leader, district office or on the web. All contact information is available through the web site or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-886-4039.
Jane Finley is the North Georgia Conference Lay Leader.
The basis of this article is from a sermon Rev. Jim McIllrath preached at the Americus First United Methodist Church on May 18 and the Internet on the story of William Borden. William Borden was the heir to an enormous fortune. After he had finished high school at sixteen his parents gave him a tour of the world. As he visited Asia, the Middle East, and Europe he felt a growing burden for the world’s hurting people. Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his “desire to become a missionary.” In response, Bill wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No Reserves.”
During his college years at Yale he made an entry in his personal Journal: “Say ‘No’ to self and ‘Yes’ to Jesus every time.Borden’s first disappointment at Yale came when the university president spoke on the student’s need of “having a fixed purpose.” After hearing that speech, Borden wrote: “He neglected to say what our purpose should be, and where we should get the ability to persevere and the strength to resist temptation.”During his first semester at Yale he and another student began having a prayer time before breakfast. Soon another student joined them, and then another. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, 1,000 of Yale’s 1300 students were meeting in such groups.
Borden’s outreach ministry reached out in the community to rescue alcoholics and to rehabilitate them and founded the Yale Hope Mission.Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down several high paying offers. In his Bible he wrote two more words: “No Retreat.”He went on to Princeton Seminary after graduation. When he finished at Princeton he sailed for China to work with Muslims. He stopped in Egypt to study Arabic; while there he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25 year-old William Borden was dead.Was Borden’s untimely death a waste? Not in God’s plan. Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in his bible. Underneath the words: “No Reserves” and No Retreats” he had written: “No Regrets.”Borden lived out Jesus’ words, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt.1:39)
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
This is my 24th issue as the editor of the Advocate. Or to put it another way, this completes my first year. It has been an exciting time. I have learned a lot about publishing a newspaper, developing stories, and most importantly not editorializing in news stories. Fortunately, I have a highly competent, dedicated, professional staff without whom I never could have gotten the first issue out the door.I describe my job as being an eyewitness to history. I am writing stories and columns that future generations of historians may read and quote as primary and secondary source materials in their efforts to understand the times in which we live.
I attended and have written about conferences and meetings I would otherwise only have read about. I had the opportunity to meet, talk with and interview leaders in the United Methodist church, the church in general, political leaders, and scholars; people I previously only saw from a distance. And I have gotten to travel. At times, on the editorial page I even get to argue with people. I strive to respect everyone’s position, and allow all sides of issues to be heard. I realize those who disagree with me are not evil, and are also striving to be faithful to God.
The positive comments about the Advocate from people at both South and North Georgia conferences were particularly gratifying. Several people commented on the fact I seemed well suited to this position. One person even told me she had just said to her husband that I finally looked happy. All of which is nice, but it does make me wonder how I appeared to everyone before.Having been a preacher for 18 years prior to becoming an editor, people often ask me if I miss being in the local church. Sure, some of it anyway. Like any job there are always some things you will never miss. I always said I was a good preacher, a really good teacher, and an excellent administrator, but I was only a mediocre pastor. Consequently, the one thing I miss most is being able to preach every Sunday. I have always been a public speaker, even as a child. I was the one in grade school that had the lead in plays. In the Army, I was the one who stood at the microphone and explained to the people what was happening. I was a radio DJ, and did voice over work for videos.
My undergraduate degree was in Speech/Theater. I even taught Speech Communication at Ohio Wesleyan University, and at what is now Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah. I was the primary spokesperson and speechwriter for the Cincinnati Bicentennial Celebration back in 1988. I was a President and Division Governor in Toastmasters and winner of several speech contests. And, the one thing I loved about campaigning was being able to speak to large groups of people.I have always been much better one on a thousand than I have one on one. And I have always been a better speaker than I am a writer, but at least as a writer I still get to communicate.
I am looking forward to my second year as Editor of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate. I hope it will be a time of transition from primarily a print publication to one with a viable presence on the Internet. Finally, if you need someone to fill in on a Sunday morning, or to speak at a Wednesday Night Supper, or other event in your church or community, please give me a call.