Looking forward

Today is one month from my Costa Rica trip.

It is also five days away from my sermon at Annual Conference. I am humbled, and a little surprised, by how many of my friends, family and fellow church members are making the effort to come and hear me that night. The church is planning a carpool. They announced it a week ago and then moved up the time this week after deciding that seating would be at a premium.

I bought a new shirt and tie today to wear that night.

Annual Conference

Layspeakers, as the term applies in the United Methodist Church, are not ordained clergy but are volunteers who have been approved by the church for preaching and other ministry within the church. They may fill in for a pastor on vacation, for example. They are sometimes pressed into service for even longer periods, although in that case an ordained minister must be available for sacraments like communion or baptism which layspeakers aren’t authorized to officiate.

For a number of years now, the Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, the governing body for Middle Tennessee, has had one evening during its annual meeting when layspeakers were honored. This year, for the first time, a layspeaker will be asked to preach during that evening’s service, on June 10 at Murfreesboro First United Methodist.

The conference asked for applications earlier this year from layspeakers interested in delivering that sermon. There were 23 sermons submitted, from which a short list of four was compiled. The four finalists delivered their sermons Saturday for the selection committee.

I would tell you who got picked, but modesty forbids.

Got the call

I got home from the symphony concert and I had three messages on my answering machine. Two of them were much-appreciated birthday greetings from family members, featuring nieces and nephews who always bring a smile to my face.

The third message was from a representative of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.

A good while back, I submitted a sermon for consideration in the selection process for the first-ever layspeaker to preach during Annual Conference.

I’ve made the short list, apparently, and they want me to come to Franklin this Saturday and give my sermon for the selection committee.

Open hearts, open minds, open doors, open discussion

As the Wednesday night activities wind down at our church (we don’t hold them in May through August), rather than start up a new Bible study our pastor has been doing “stump the pastor,” fielding questions from the crowd.

Tonight, we got onto a surprisingly and refreshingly frank discussion of the itineracy, the appointment process, church politics and the role of bishops in the United Methodist Church. It was a great discussion, and we ran 20 minutes over our allotted time. Since I’d walked to church, this meant I had to walk home in the dark, but it was still nice outside.

Not-so-terrible Ted

When I first read this yesterday, I was afraid it might be an April Fool’s joke, but it’s legit: Ted Turner, who is partnering with the Lutheran and United Methodist churches on an anti-malaria effort, has apologized for his past comments bashing religion and has even admitted to praying for ill friends. He isn’t likely to join a mainstream church just yet, and says that the faithful sometimes go too far (tell me something I don’t know), but admits that faith can be a powerful force for good.

Next time I’m in Nashville, I’ll have to stop by Ted’s Montana Grill and hoist a bison burger in his honor.

Conference Council situation

Jay Voorhees has an excellent post about Loyd Mabry’s defense of the recent reorganization in the Tennessee Conference UMC office. I was extremely unsatisfied with Mabry’s posting and think Jay does a great job of critiquing it.

I haven’t blogged before about this situation, which happened several weeks ago. For out-of-towners and non-Methodists, the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church (which basically includes all of Middle Tennessee) did away with two staff positions a few weeks ago, including the one held by Beth Morris, who was responsible for the conference’s youth programming and who I was very slightly acquainted with because she represented the conference on the Mountain T.O.P. board. The other position was related to children’s ministries.

The conference says that a reorganization is needed, but even if that is true, these specific changes were handled in an extremely poor fashion, without debate, discussion or warning, and the youth ministry workers and children’s ministry workers who would be most affected by the change weren’t consulted or even warned. The impact on some of the activities already scheduled apparently wasn’t fully thought through either.

Here’s a timeline from Gavin.

Croaking out a sermon

Certified layspeakers who want to preach this June at the Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church can either submit a manuscript or a video, or both, for consideration. Naturally, I assumed a video would carry more weight, and my father, a retired UM pastor, was looking forward to taping me.

But the deadline is Monday, and my voice is still torn up. So I’m going to have to go the manuscript route. I think I’ve got it done; I’m giving printouts to my father and to my pastor at church tomorrow night; I may or may not wait for their feedback before sending off my envelope.

This is the first time they’ve asked a layspeaker to preach during laity night at Conference, which is the annual gathering of United Methodist pastors and church leaders from throughout Middle Tennessee. They will sift through the submissions and draw up a short list, and then the finalists will have to preach their sermons for the selection committee. (My voice will, of course, have cleared up long before they get to that point.) They plan to make this an annual event and have already said that this year’s speaker will be a member of next year’s selection committee.

I don’t suppose I have much chance, but it’s fun to try.

Do I have a chance?

I was complaining in this space Friday night that I thought I’d done a very poor job speaking about LEAMIS at the annual district layspeaking banquet.

And yet, I have bigger fish to fry.

For some reason — not that I have any chance whatsoever of delivering it — I have decided to try to write a sermon for this summer’s Tennessee Annual Conference. You see, this year, for the first time ever, the sermon on the night that they traditionally honor laity will be given by a lay speaker. (What a concept!) They have sent letters out to all of the certified lay speakers in the conference inviting us to submit a written sermon and/or a video if we are interested in being considered.

Call me Don Quixote, but I’m going to try to write a sermon for this. I’m playing around with some ideas, within the stated topic that they gave us in the letter (“Beyond the Walls: Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World”).

A search committee will come up with a short list of three, and the three finalists will get the chance to preach their sermon to the committee.

If nothing else, it will be a fun exercise. And, hey, if the Giants can beat those no-good cheaters from Massachusetts, anything’s possible. 🙂

Rush job

I am sure that, at some point in the preparation for tonight’s Layspeaker and Lay Leader banquet, I was told that our presentations should be about 7 minutes each. Five speakers times 7 minutes equals 35 minutes; add a little transition time, and maybe someone goes over a minute or two, and you have a 45-minute program. Sounds about right. Much beyond that and people start to lose interest.

The trouble is, if you’re passionate about something, it’s hard to boil it down to 7 minutes. I went back and forth in my mind about how to hit the highlights of LEAMIS, my experience with LEAMIS, and to briefly address the fact that the people we’ve worked with in Kenya have been affected by the recent violence but are still personally uninjured.

But the first speaker got up tonight and went for 25 minutes on the dot. The second went for 10 minutes. There goes your 35-minute window right there.

The first speaker is, I’m sure, a fine man, and the ministry about which he was speaking is fantastic. But it’s just rude to go that far over your allotted time slot and take that much of people’s attention when you know there are other speakers following you.

I was next, and I tried to keep to what I had understood was the time frame. (I can’t find it in any of my written correspondence; it’s possible that what was said was 7-10 minutes.) I think I did about 8 or 9 minutes. It sounded rushed and shallow; I’m sure I was the least effective of the five speakers, and I feel like I let LEAMIS down, but I also suspect that it’s because I was the only one who made a concerted effort to stay within the time frame.

That sounds petty, and selfish, and I guess in fact it is petty and selfish. But I had to vent anyway.

Otherwise, the banquet was nice enough, although several of the people I looked forward to seeing weren’t there. Jim and Emily Austin (who was responsible for me speaking in the first place) weren’t there because Jim is under the weather, and Don Ladd was also not there due to health issues as well. Art and Stacie, with whom I sat at last year’s banquet, weren’t there either. I was sitting at a table by myself, and Tom and Nita Wright took pity on me and came over and sat with me.

It’s been a long week; I’m glad it’s Friday (although Friday means less than it used to now that I have to work a couple of hours every Saturday).

Do I sound like I have a bad attitude?

David Adams

Several years ago, when I decided to start attending First United Methodist, David Adams was our associate pastor. I already knew David from things I’d covered for the newspaper and liked him. In fact, I chose a Sunday School class because he was the teacher.

Two weeks — two weeks! — after I started at FUMC, we found out David was being transferred.

Anyway, after serving in Monterey and Lynchburg, David became the general secretary of the General Commission on United Methodist Men. In that role, he’s the point person for men’s ministries in United Methodist churches around the world.

David was kind enough to come and speak for our men’s breakfast this morning at FUMC, and he gave a fantastic, highly-motivational talk, which touched on evangelism, mentoring, Scouting, and the importance of men in the life of the church.