Exploring Exploration

This past weekend the United Methodist Church (UMC) held its Exploration event. Exploration is an event that happens every other year for people 18-26. The 3 day conference brings together young people from all over the country to explore their calls into ordained ministry. During the weekend the participants attend 4 worship services, meet in small groups, and attend sessions focused on different aspects of ordained ministry and ways to become ordained. The participants also get the opportunity to meet representatives from most of the UMC seminaries, and other organizations within the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) and the UMC. It also happens to be one of my absolute favorite things the UMC does.

I was first introduce to Exploration 4 years ago in my first semester of undergrad. At the time I was 18 and had been in college for about 2 months. I signed up for the event hoping to learn more about my call to youth ministry. Little did I know that by the time I went to Exploration I would be working as a youth director and that I would have realized that youth ministry was not God’s long term plan for me. At the time of Exploration 2013 I was young and naive, I thought I knew what my future held: I wanted to go to Wesley Theological Seminary, I might get ordained but who really knew that, and to be honest I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

That first year at Exploration I was introduced to ordination, and I had my mind opened to the idea of one day being ordained (as a deacon’s kid I really wasn’t thinking about ordination for myself before that). While it was an important first step on my journey I really did not get everything I needed to out of Exploration 2013, because I was not yet at the point that I knew myself, let alone my calling.

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The group I was with for Exploration 2013

 

Two years later things were different. In the fall of 2015 I petitioned (arguably I coerced) every person I knew to sign up for Exploration. I had been looking forward to going back for two years, and I wanted everyone else to get the same experiences I had out of the event. I am sad to say that may not have been the best move I ever took. Looking back I realize that not everyone I convinced to go was in a place where Exploration would be helpful to them. It was still an important trip for many of us, but I recognize now it was not what everyone else needed at the time.

I on the other hand really need Exploration 2015. To be honest I treated it as my own personal seminary fair to begin with. I went in knowing I wanted to continue my education, but not planning on pursuing ordination. This was solely a trip for my education… at least that’s what I thought. I went to most of my sessions (Also I did skip one to talk to representatives from some of the most interesting seminaries), but I wasn’t fully invested in them. I also found myself struggling with my small group. As someone with absolutely no call to be an elder I found my group of early 20 year old future elders to be immensely unhelpful. The thing is though that it was finally during the third worship service that God did a 180 on me.

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My friends I persuaded to join me at Exploration 2015.

During the Saturday night worship I found myself drawn to the back of the room. We had been invited, if we felt called, to go find a leader in the back of the room and ask them to pray for us. For the first time in my life I heeded a call without resistance and asked one of them to pray for me. To this day I don’t remember a word of that prayer. Almost as soon as the young man laid his hands on my shoulder I found myself overwhelmed by a vision.

I saw myself standing in a valley leading a crowd of people wearing the stole of a deacon. All at once I knew what God was calling me to: I was called to be ordained as a deacon in the UMC. My chaperone from the trip can attest that I spent the next 5 minutes sobbing into my hands in my seat, so overwhelmed by the experience… Honestly this is one of the first times I’ve told the full story because it is one of my most treasured memories…

Jump forward to 2017. Guess what: I was at Exploration last weekend too (Are you sensing a pattern?) But this time I was no longer a participant. Over the summer this year I reached out to the Admissions department at the seminary that I had committed to, but had not yet started at: Drew Theological School and asked to represent them at Exploration. Which sounds a little desperate, but I felt a tugging on my soul to return, so I emailed the associate dean and told him how important Exploration was to my decision to come to Drew (I honestly wouldn’t have even known to look into it without Exploration) and come September I was invited to represent the school.

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The Drew Theological School Admissions Team at Exploration 2017

I wasn’t necessarily sure what to expect, being on the other side of the curtain this year but I was not disappointed. This past weekend I was amazed to be a part of several 19-21 year olds journeys as they began to explore their own callings. Despite the minimal age difference I saw reflections of 18 and 20 year old me in the participants as they tried to understand what ordination could look like, and why they should try to be ordained in a church on the verge of collapse. Like a younger me my small group ended up leaving Exploration with more questions then answers, but they had also created relations with peers trying to understand the same journey.

I didn’t write all of this to talk just about myself. Like I said in the beginning I truly believe that Exploration is one of the most important events we do as United Methodists. This event is about so much more then just Exploring a calling. This is a chance for young people from all over the country to come together and meet people who are both immensely different from them, and yet of the same substance. This is an event where we fully invest in the future of our church, where we treat our future generations as if they matter in every way. Exploration is an event that opens doors for young leaders to explore how God is calling them in their lives, and equip them to go forward prepared with questions, and support. Over the years I have made connections at Exploration that have supported me, and helped me grow closer to the man God is calling me to be, and these are connections I never would have made otherwise. I cannot advocate for Exploration enough.

If you are currently struggling with a call into ordained ministry, or know someone who is I hope that you will remember Exploration in 2019. If you would like more information I invite you to go to http://www.explorecalling.org/ and learn as much as you can. As our church teeters on the potential verge of schism it is more important then ever that we invest into the young leaders in our churches. It is more important then ever that we take a step for our future and recognize these young people are no longer tomorrow’s leaders. Tomorrow has come.

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Exploration’s Logo

 

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A Bucket full of Hope

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Tarping roofs and marking the holes with large X’s: notice tree to right that had fallen on house

It started out like any other day, watching the news and moving through my work routine. But as Harvey hit and people began calling from around the Winchester District to see what we were doing in response, I felt that tug. You know, the one that says, “You need to do something radically different here and step out in faith.” Things quickly took shape and I found myself with four other people in two cars headed down to Texas with our ERT (Early Response Team) badges, which allow us into locations that have experienced disasters.

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Following the trailer hauling the bobcat from Virginia to Texas

Our first impressions were of piles of possessions on the road, hay bales that had floated across roads, and business signs ripped from their posts and scattered across parking lots and sidewalks. Some areas had remained virtually untouched beyond the occasional blue tarp on the roof, but down by the river in the poorer section of town, flooding had done severe damage to many of the homes. This is where we spent our time in Victoria, TX.

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Hay bales pushed to the side of the road after floating away from the fields during the storm

As we approached our first neighborhood, a man came running out to our vehicle begging for our help. He was living in a small home with six others, including several children. Their roof had been pealed back from the home and rain had poured into the front section, creating terrible black mold. His need was compelling and one of the assessors spent all day working to remove them from their home as work began. This first impression was a lasting one and I’m happy to report that with the help of a nephew, we removed the mold and sprayed it down to stop the growth. We bought them a tent so they could stay outside until the work was done, and we made some new friends.

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Necessity is the mother of invention: tent with air conditioner built in

By the afternoon of the first day, we had joined forces with seven from Austin, TX. God truly brought this team together to do amazing work. In five days, we tarped five roofs, removed debris from nine homes, worked to remove black mold from three homes, and removed a tree from the roof of a home. In all, we cared for ten homes.

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Tree several hundred years old fell across this home, damaging inside and out

But the blessings came in the interactions with not just those living in the homes, but their neighbors, as well. Many of them had been working tirelessly for a week or two to remove the damage. Their spirits were determined, but beginning to feel hopeless. Fresh hands and renewed energy gave them a boost to keep moving forward. We worked side by side with these individuals, learning about them, growing in faith, lending support with words, gestures, and prayers. Kathy Kraiza, the former Executive Director at UMCOR’s Sager Brown, used to say about the flood buckets we send, “a flood bucket can’t fix what’s wrong with these homes. But they are a bucket full of hope when life seems hopeless.” I never fully understood that until this trip to Texas. We were a moment of hope to renew spirits. And I am grateful for that opportunity to participate.

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We worked tirelessly with this home owner and our new friends from Austin, TX

All of this was only possible because of the United Methodist Churches in Victoria, TX, who stepped up and out in faith to become the hub of support in their community. First United Methodist Church opened their doors for the community to come receive flood buckets and personal hygiene items. They closed down their youth rooms to provide space for volunteers to stay. Their UMW made casseroles and their preschool children made notes of encouragement for the volunteers. The wear and tear on this building with two showers and a large gym is going to be overwhelming. But this is what United Methodist Churches do. They open up their doors when others remain closed to be a place of transformation in their communities and beyond.

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First UMC of Victoria, TX, with supplies including water, flood buckets, and hygiene items

This crisis is far from over. The rebuild will continue for years to come in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and all the islands of the Atlantic and Gulf. I implore you to not forget. Send money to UMCOR, or, if you feel moved, talk to your local church or District or the Conference about putting together a team for next spring to begin the rebuilding. I am so proud to be United Methodist because we truly are the very first ones in and the very last ones out. That only happens because we get trained to respond early and we don’t forget in the years ahead.

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Black mold removal: tear out drywall and spray the mold to stop the growth. Hard, hot work

I Left My Heart – reflections on Haiti

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I left my heart in Haiti

Or at least a piece of it

I didn’t expect that

I thought I had enough distance to remain intact

But the heart doesn’t work that way

Instead we leave littered fragments

All around us

Like leaves scattered behind the wind

And so a piece of my heart

Attempting to leap after our plane at takeoff

Remained behind

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And I long for the day to go back

To be reunited with great joy

For just a time

With my heart

That I left in Haiti.

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Does Size Matter? -reflections on Haiti

I came home from Haiti last night

I was exhausted, but processing so intensely, I couldn’t sleep

I thought about my huge house

I thought about the number of families that could fit in every room.

And I was overwhelmed by what I had

What I take for granted every day.

So my dreams became a jumble of

Chaos

Pain

Grief

Acceptance

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I woke up

Confused

Disoriented

Exhausted

But unable to continue to sleep.

Does size matter?

Do material possessions matter?

As I rest secure in my big house

Warm

Comfortable

Safe

Abundant

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I remember those with no

Bed

Amenities

Security

Excess

They survive day after day, night after night

On the streets with nothing but family and an indomitable human spirit and a sense of survival

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While we sleep in our big homes in isolation from one another wrapped in comforts unimaginable to most

I thank God, but I also beg forgiveness for my waste. I pray for those who matter just as I matter, but who are forgotten in the slums of Haiti and in my own home town.

 

Rainstorm

I’m sitting on my front porch after a very hot, humid day

Enjoying the cool breeze

Whipping my hair as a storm comes up.

 

The rain just dumped for a second and is going to be a gusher.

I haven’t sat outside for a good storm in a long time.

I think we’ve forgotten simple life and the goodness of it

The smell of fresh, wet earth,

The sound of wind in the trees,

The call of the birds suddenly hushed in the downpour,

The shout of children caught in the deluge,

And as it ends for a moment,

The hardy birds still rejoicing.

 

I hear it coming across our neighborhood –

HARDER this time.

 

I hadn’t ever listened to the sound it makes on our

Burning bushes with distinct plinking.

And oh! That glorious breeze!

The wind is blowing on my hot, sweaty body

                                    Cooling me

                                    Refreshing me

As sheets fall to the ground.

 

What a fun rain coming in waves!

Hard for a moment……………then gone.

And as I listen, I hear the next wave approach.

 

It’s like my own ocean ebbing and flowing

As faithful as the sea always has been and always will be.

 

Now the thunder rolling as from a distance,

Warning of more consistency to come.

 

The road darkens in color,

Steam blows across its surface,

Testimony to the torturous heat from just moments ago in the day.

 

There! The thunder sounds again – a distant warning

Of the depth of God’s power on earth.

 

Will you be caught unaware?

Frolicking in the sunshine until an abrupt storm overtakes you?

Or will you heed the roiling clouds and swift rain,

Finding shelter from the darkest storms,

Prepared for whatever lies ahead?

 

I remember as a child:

Sitting outside under my grandparent’s tin roofed patio,

While lightening flashed and rain poured down.

I did not fear.

I wondered at the awesomeness of the storm,

Safe with my grandpa by my side.

I remember as a child:

Driving to Texas across the plains to see my other grandparents.

The dry ground and incredible lightning storms

Rending the dark sky

With streaks of brilliant color –

Far better than any fireworks display could every boast!

 

And again, that awe in God,

Who is very much greater than myself.

God, who could crush me,

But who instead gently and carefully holds me and the

Sacred life and relationship I present.

My God is one to fear,

But only because of how intensely BIG and GREAT God is!

Even in that fear,

I am not some nameless thing that happened to come along.

NO!!

I am beloved, precious, adored, sacred, claimed.

No matter what happens, God, the GREAT I AM,

Will never ever leave my side.

God will simply abide with me.

 

What an awesome word – abide!

Not one we use much,

But filled with something profound.

What other word measures up?

Why do we not use it more?

Is it because we have become so oriented around a throw-away society that we no longer even value the depth of abiding with someone?

Does our world move so quickly that we don’t know how to abide?

How can we know God if we don’t understand the depth of abiding?

 

It’s not to stay or about constancy

(Although it is both)

It’s not the same as forever

(But still holds tinges of this, as well.)

And even thinking on it makes me want to

Flee

                      Back

                                                            To Technology

                                                                                                      And Connection

                                                                                                                                                   To my Devises.

 

Why is that?

Are we afraid to abide?

Afraid of silence?

Afraid to just be?

 

Still, reality DOES seep back in, as I am called to make dinner.

So after we sit for another moment,

We come inside –

The temperature outside now more closely matching the

coolness of the air conditioned inside.

 

Still, as I begin to enter this world again,

I open the back door to hear the rain

In the backyard falling.

 

Funny how it sounds completely different

On the other side of the house!

 

 

So, my Majestic God,

Thank You for a Moment Apart

To ABIDE with You and

To Remember just how GREAT You are.

Whose “Side” Are You On?

Are you a liberal or a conservative? What are you fighting for? Where do you fall on the lines that is the issues?

I’ve seen a lot of comments on twitter, on signs, and coming from people about the issue of human rights. The hard part is seeing the people who continue to bash the decision to speak on the topic in a special commission, or those who get angry with the worship committee for supporting a “side” with veiled messages.

I’m not quite sure having a “side” is the point.

Where do you think God is in all this? Does God have a political platform? Is God stagnant and stuck in the book that we decided to close, or does God extend out of the Bible as God did when Jesus died and the curtain was split?

I don’t think that God is as caught up in interpreting 2000 year old rules correctly as we are.

Imagine a trail in the woods. Poison Ivy all along the sides, and a spiderweb strung up in the way. Your friend has somehow gotten past the spiderweb and is now standing on the other side, calling you to follow them. How do you respond? “Sorry I can’t, this spiderweb is in the way. I’ll just stay here,” or do you just walk through the spiderweb, shake off the pieces and follow your friend?

This is essentially what we are doing when we discuss being on a “side”. Each issue that we take a side on is another spine in the web, a spine that we cling to with everything we have. As we take on more sides we find ourselves getting stuck in a thicker and thicker spiderweb that is keeping us away from God and the plan that God has for the rest of our hike.

If we split over these issues we are splitting our body and sending one half on either side, through the poison ivy. Some people may choose to leave the UMC. People leave churches all the time; but if we decide to split on “good terms” we claim that we do not respect each other or the God who is calling us forward together. We are the United Methodist Church; it’s about time we started acting unified.

I understand that these issues need to be discussed and we need to vote and set the UMC’s policies. I am not asking the denomination to change its structure (today). I am asking the denomination to loosen our stances (yes both sides) and try to follow the path that God is calling us to. I am calling for us to step through the issues and see what God truly desires, not what we desire of God.

I guess you could say I hope to be on God’s side.

Let go of the spiderweb… follow God.

A Call for Unity

As many of you saw from my last post I am at the UMC General Conference. Yesterday I wrote what could be called an emotional post on the possibilities of a divide. Today I am not in fear. Today I am hopeful. Yesterday the Bishops brought forward a “plan” to move our denomination forward in unity and it passed… by 23 votes. Below is the bishop’s proposal in it’s entirety.

There are people on both sides of the human sexuality discussion that hate this plan. Some people are calling this a “kicking of the can,” pushing the issue to the future as we did in 2012. Others are saying it is a liberal agenda for a schism. As someone who is here and cares for the United Methodist Church (unlike the Washington Post), I want to give you my attempt at a diplomatic understanding.

I think this is the best plan the United Methodist Church could take for all sides. This commission will be a group that is diverse, small (compared to the General Conference size), and actually dedicated to attempting to find a path that leads the Church to unity. The space is supposed to be a place of true Holy Conversation, which will be solely dedicated to the single conversation, instead of a group that has other things to discuss and is just thinking of their own views on the Church.

This is not a space intended to split the Church; it is a space to find the best path towards unity. It is not a “liberal” agenda, because the liberals had no say in the wording, it came directly from the Bishops after we asked them to give us their guidance. It is not a “kicking of the can” because instead of “pushing it under the rug” we are setting human sexuality to the side and dedicating ourselves to the discussion in a way we never have before, without other discussions. And as those speaking for the motion said yesterday: We asked the Bishops to lead us, and they did. They brought this concept to us and claimed it was, what they consider, the best way forward.

We have been having this discussion for decades. Clearly what we have been trying is not solving the issue of human sexuality. We have been offered from the Bishop’s language a new path that may help lead our Church into a place of true unity. The least we can do is give it a chance and truly commit to the discussion once. A schism may be coming this way, but it is much more likely if we do not try something new. I pray the commission can join in true Holy Conversation, I pray this movement can reunify the Church I love, and I pray you give it a chance as well.

Searching for God’s will,

Andrew

 

Photo Credit Zach Hubbard

 

Reflection on General Conference

I am currently sitting in the observation section of the UMC General Conference. I have been here for two full days, and while I may have missed the first week I have already found myself in multiple conflicts.

General Conference is a place that fuels activism and protests because it is the place where decisions are supposed to be made. I have been to Annual Conference twice and I thought I knew what to expect coming here, sadly that was not the truth. This week I have seen pain that I cannot even imagine, and gotten into heated discussions with people who interpret the Bible in ways that I cannot even fathom.

I do not claim to have divine wisdom when it comes to scriptural interpretation, but what I do claim to have is a heart for this denomination. I do not agree with every person in the UMC (impossible) or even every thing the UMC teaches, but I love this Church.

As a fourth generation going into ministry the UMC essentially runs in my veins, and after the past year of exploration of denominations I can truly say that this is where God wants me. With these pieces of knowledge I can now say that General Conference has truly made my heart weep.

We know that there are conflicts in the UMC but until I got here I did not realize how close we are to a divide of the Church. I have listened to people like Rev. Adam Hamilton discuss the benefits of a split (he doesn’t want to split either), and I have watched pastors I truly look up to like Rev. Tom Berlin stand up to the bishops and call for stronger leadership. Later today General Conference will discuss the “issue” of homosexuality and there is a serious concern that we will split.

I do not have a solution to the growing divide in our denomination. I do not know what will happen these next few days. All I know is that I am struggling with the ever increasing conflict that no one seems to be able to address. I will write again soon and really talk about some of the conflicts, but in this moment I needed to express this fear.

-Andrew

Claimed

But now, this is what the LORD says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

-Isaiah 43:1-7

Names matter. From the time a baby is conceived until it is brought into the world, parents agonize over getting the name just right. As children and teens, we are given or create nick names for ourselves that fit us. As adults, when someone gets our name wrong, we feel a piece of our souls cringe inside. And then we go through the sometimes internal and other times external battle of getting that name corrected.

 

Why do names matter so much? Because they are the essence of who we are. God tells us repeatedly that we are claimed. In this passage we hear these words: created, formed, redeemed, summoned by name, precious, honored, loved, gathered, called, created, formed, made.

 

I love how Isaiah begins and ends with created and formed. God knows us. Not just on the surface, but deep down to those dark recesses that we hope no one actually ever sees.

 

So how do we live our lives created, formed, redeemed, summoned, precious, honored, gathered, called and loved? The deepest expression of our devotion is to return all of that back to the Giver. But God calls us to go one step further. God lists all those who are scattered. God calls us to look for them and to accept them into our family.

 

How do we go about this in our daily lives? How do we see and share and experience others in the same way that God sees us? In this new year, may we strive to look on others as God’s precious children, just as God sees us.

 

Prayer: Holy, loving, creating God, there are no words to describe our devotion to you. Help us this day to live as your beloved as we look out and see the ways you are calling us to be in relationship with others – not just knowing their names, but truly walking daily on the journey with them. Just as you do with us. Amen.

Letting Go

Being an upperclassmen is nowhere near as awesome as I was expecting. I was expecting to begin to take leadership and to help make a difference for the underclassmen. I was finally at a place where I felt comfortable with mentoring to the newer students in the Faith Seeking Justice (FSJ) program.

Then a realization hit me.

During our FSJ orientation there were major conflicts among us as we were discussing where we saw the group going in the coming years. I found myself on a side I swore I’d never be on: The side of a stick in the mud. Listening to what some of the other students wanted was very difficult for me, because it did not represent what the program had been for me, and the members before me. I fought back trying desperately to keep the program the way it had been, slightly disgusted by the way other students were, in my eyes, disgracing the program I loved so much.

What I didn’t realize until recently, almost two months later, was that they felt very similarly to me. They felt like they were being forced to conform to a group that claimed to support them but did not fulfill their needs.

They felt like they were being forced to conform to a group that claimed to support them but did not fulfill their needs. 

This was a feeling that I can easily relate to, as a millennial in the Church. I cannot tell you how frustrated I was sitting at Annual Conference this year listening to the debate about homosexuality. I know I’m not the only one who was steaming listening to the opposition. Both sides were clearly frustrated beyond belief with each other and both sides had understandable reasoning.

Like I was with FSJ, those against homosexuality see the push to change as a disgrace to the Church that they have dedicated their lives to. They see this change as completely different and against the very essence of what the Church means to them. They don’t want the change to lead the younger members astray from what the Church is supposed to believe. It is because of love that they hold on, a love of the Church and a love of us.

Those of us on the other side see it as the newer students in FSJ see the program. We see the intolerance towards homosexuality as something that does not truly represent what we believe. We feel as if the Church is trying to claim us without recognizing our views and beliefs. We see the prejudice as contrasting with what the Church is supposed to believe. It is because of love that we fight for change.

The resolution I have adopted with FSJ is exactly the same as how I feel the Church needs to act. I do not have to like where the program is going, because the group is not going to be mine for much longer. It is unfair of me to think that what has been right for me will be right for them. It is also unfair for the older generation to refuse to allow the Church to change to represent the generation that will be leading it soon.

Letting go of control is one of the hardest things to do, but at some point we need to acknowledge that there are other people who will be inheriting our Church soon, and we should allow the Church to evolve to fit their beliefs too.