Monday, June 27, 2016

Final Reflections on Annual Conference

Where do I begin with Annual Conference. This being my first time going to Annual Conference I didn't really know what to expect. I can say that from beginning to end there were moments I will cherish and never forget. 

From Thursday through Sunday there were a lot of sessions, many meetings, and a lot of worship services. 

One moment that stood out to me was the Reconciling Ministries Service. We heard testimony and prayed for those victims in Orlando. I was honored to be there and be a representative for our church THE WALK. If given the opportunity to attend again I would. New friendships were formed. And old ones were made stronger. 

Carter, Sandy, & Rodney thank you for the memories, the laughs, and the tears. 

Karen Sandridge

Friday, June 24, 2016

Tangled Thoughts and Experiences of Annual Conference 2016 (from Sandy Simpson)

I have been blessed to attend the Annual Conference of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church for 17 of the last 20 years. Not everyone would profess to feeling blessed. There are always undertones of obligation and exasperation from some laity and clergy alike.  I have never understood that…
My first experience was going as a youth counselor for CCYM (Conference Council on Youth Ministry) youth delegates.  My introduction under those circumstances made the difference. I am such a nerd when it comes to order, like a business meeting that follows Roberts Rules of Order. At the same time I can say I love being exposed to other, seeing events through others eyes, different ways of doing things, the back story has always fascinated me-asking “How did we get here?”, and seeing the church when it works and even when it doesn’t , from my view point. This faith journey is a process for individuals and a process for the global UMC and it’s so easy to get impatient with those others when they just don’t “get it” But it’s an ongoing process with God working through, even in the darkest days. I’ve learned to trust and understand that wrestling with the hard things must be gone through, to get to the next level of understanding, at least for myself.
Back to those Youth delegates all those years ago…we would bring them in a day early and work through petitions so they would understand the business side of Annual Conference. What a joy to see their excitement to be a part of what “THE CHURCH” is all about and how to make direct change and their bewilderment when an argument they were passionate about would be shutdown suddenly…”What just happened?!?! And then I would get to explain, “What just happened” to them. I’d see the anger and confusion AND THEN, the determination to get back into the next thing on the agenda. During my time with CCYM, we presented the petitions for Safe Sanctuaries and a change to the language in the Book of Discipline from Indians to Native Americans.  Both were adopted by our Western North Carolina Annual Conference.
This year many of the youth and young adults I’ve had contact with through the years, working on conference youth events, going to church with, planning their weddings, praying for them and them praying for me, we got to re-connect at Annual Conference.  
Chris Grimmett just graduated from Duke Seminary and he and his wife Kate are off for Chris’ first church appointment in Pilot Mountain to a 2 point charge (serving 2 churches). Chris was in more than one drama I casted for conference youth events and made a better Captain Jack Sparrow than the original would have in Spiritus’ “Pirates of the Galilean”.  
Meredith Workman is appointed back at Weddington UMC where she interned one summer during her early college years, before attending Duke Seminary.  She and husband Brad, also a Duke Seminary graduate and appointed to a church, are expecting their first child, Seth, this fall. I had the pleasure of assigning Meredith to escort our Spiritus speaker, Shane Claiborne, around for the weekend and those two souls had an impact on each other that continues to ripple.
I also, got to see THE WALK’s former Duke interns Darryl and Jessica Dayson with baby Malachi. What loving people and beautiful family! They are leading The Methodist church to think about how we love AND how we don’t.
Got to spend time with Andrew Woods, now a youth pastor at Aldersgate UMC and alternate delegate to General Conference, whose blog I followed while he was in Portland. Andrew posted some of the most heart wrenching yet hopeful posts I read about General Conference 2016.
With Rodney near Lake Junaluska
And then there’s our Rodney Crouse… I hope you all read Rodney’s blog post from yesterday.  I’ve known Rodney for a while and have seen him mature in his faith, take his hurt and use his experiences to reach out to make a difference in the lives of the children he teaches, those people hurting around him and invite them and others to join him in seeing the world differently and how to go about making a way to joy.
These were just some of the people I got to re-connect with and see where God is leading them through what breaks their hearts and molds their lives, and keeps their feet on the path that God has for them.  They said yes and I am blessed for having spent time with them both then and now.
I challenge you to pour some of yourself into others. It makes a difference and you will be forever changed and it will be a wondrous thing.
Blessings Always
Sandy Simpson

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rodney's Story (from WNC Annual Conference)

Good evening,

I was asked to speak here tonight because I was born a gay male and by chance was raised in a ‘christian’ home and by choice grew into a man who is trying to be a Christ-follower.  None of these things in isolation are worthy of mention or deemed extraordinary.  But here I am, none the less, because apparently when these things combine in today’s culture it does become somewhat of an oddity or less common event.

My name is Rodney Crouse, and this is my story…

My life for the first 14 years was not much different than any other boy grown amidst the smell of cow manure and tall corn plants.  In the rural part of western North Carolina I attended church every sunday and learned about hell fire and damnation at an early age.  By the time I was in 3rd grade I was too terrified to not raise my hand at the altar call one hot June night during revival.  Then a few short weeks later I was dunked three quick times in the creek that runs through the middle of the cow pasture in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

By the time  I was in 5th grade I left the steadfast bible raising of the baptist mother and the ‘spare the rod spoil the child’ stepfather who spared nothing.  With my stepmother and work too much father I learned how to grow crops, herd cattle, and mend fences - but on Sundays - we were still entering a church door somewhere.  I didn’t listen to a whole lot of the Sunday sermons but I got exposed to different customs from the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist congregations up on the mountain.  We finally settled in a small white country church over a hundred years old it seemed - Antioch United Methodist Church - one of a three point charge.

Things were pretty non-commentable up until my later teen years.  At the age of 18 I met my ‘true love’.  As it goes with me and sharing - for those in the room who know me, -- I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I knew - but fear of the unknown for once tempered my tongue and left me dealing with complete guilt.  I moved from church camps where I would confess my sins and have hands laid on me to back to staring all dreamy eyed and secretly guilt ridden into a now forgotten color of eyes.

I finally found my way through the death threats at high school and made it to graduation.  I left that small country congregation with a college dorm fridge purchased from the collected money of the 12 ladies attending Antioch at the time and never returned.  Sadly, most of the congregation died off before knowing the man that I would become from the boy they had loved and supported.

Before leaving for college - I told my ‘good christian’ mother that I was gay and left with her lasting words - I’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.  My dad was less vocal, but just as much concerned about who I would become.  He never showed anything other than fatherly love - no sarcasm.  

I left for college and found myself involved with the Presby youth group - and one more pastor who believed I would spend eternity in hell.  I worked during that time at McDonald’s to make ends meet while knocking out my required core classes.  This still didn’t alleviate my desire to find a christian group to belong to and in 1999 I found Ricky Stepp at the Teddy Bear Motel who held church on Friday nights in Cherokee.  It fit my schedule and I liked the music.  It was the first ‘church’ I’d been to where there was drumset!  All my life I’d been surrounded by the kind of christian that didn’t buy green bananas because you never knew when the rapture might happen.  This new group of ‘followers’ were no different.  With Y2K coming I found this group just in the nick of time and travelled all the way to Dawsonville Georgia to meet Jesus at midnight.  Unfortunately - no one told Jesus He was supposed to show up and so - I drove back to Western Carolina the next day feeling like we were really missing something.  By the way - my feelings toward the one true love and been long forgotten behind the many true loves that I had met since then.  Sometime in mid April - Ricky (I refuse to call pastor) preached a sermon that AIDS was God’s punishment to homosexuals and was going to be used to cleanse the earth of this abomination.  I took his words of ‘wisdom’, my mother’s loving sentiments, and my multitude of failed relationships and my imagined isolation - put it all together and formed the perfect plan.  To drive my car off a cliff near Graveyard Falls and end it all.  

God had other plans, placed loving accepting people in my life - professors that believed in connecting to the whole student and paying attention to changes.  When no one else noticed - my English professor called me into her office and had a real honest conversation with me.  For the first time - someone said they loved me without condition and promised me life would get better.  Over the next four years I built relationships with professors, made friends, and had a couple of longer term relationships.  I still had an internal turmoil about what was right and what was wrong for me in my life.  Who was I really meant to be? I graduated in 2004 and found my way to work in Guilford County.  I began a journey to be a kick butt teacher changing lives and loving kids - helping to put their lives on a different trajectory than what they were currently on. - but this is about my story in the church.  My first year teaching I had a very persistent parent who felt I should find myself a good church to belong to.  She told me of a contemporary service and a pastor who she thought I would like.  I eventually gave in and showed up alone one sunday morning and heard Jim Allred with a one liner I’d never heard from a pulpit.  He said - it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, gay or straight, we are called to keep stepping, leaving our tracks and loving each other.  I was floored.  I had never heard anything like this and had to come back.

I got involved with a small group which included the 10-10 pastor - Bill Gibson.  One night I found myself in an emotional storm.  I was weepy and crying and feeling like I couldn’t turn to anyone. I stepped outside the house we were meeting at for some fresh air.  Bill followed me.  I told him I wanted to talk to him, I wanted to talk to someone - I just couldn’t.  And then it happened.  He put his arm around me, lovingly, and said, “DUDE!, you act like we don’t know!  You have Madonna and Cher for your ring tones...we love you anyway!” … he loved me anyway.  I had never had a pastor, a man of God, a spiritual leader say anything so sincere to me.  So life changing…. I wept.  

From that moment in 2004, to the moment in 2007 when I met my real true love - no air quotes needed, to the moment we found THE WALK and reconnected with Bill, and my dear friend Sandy among others, and a congregation we came to call family.  A family that voted in 2013 to become a reconciling congregation (the second in our conference behind Green Street) Then the moment that that family decided to stand in biblical obedience and lead the way by showing God’s love was meant for ALL and lived into allowing the place we gather and worship to be a place and space to experience the radical welcome of God.  The moment that my husband and I said I do and my father poured sand for the unity part of our ceremony.  There have been so many moments, after all - isn’t that what each day is?  Aren’t we supposed to live each moment fully and love every day as though it is a gift?  It is a gift.  

Clergy, Pastors, Lay leaders, laity, friends, family, allies, and those still struggling to find their place in this society - I beg you.  For all the Rodney’s who are out there, please open your minds, open your hearts and find a way to show the radical welcome of God. You never know what the next person you meet will be facing.  Use words of kindness.  Be authentic.  Give hugs, give love, and let’s work as one to grow the Kingdom and mend some fences

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Confession: I LOVE Annual Conference

Confession...I love Annual Conference. I do; I love it. I guess I am officially a Methodist nerd!

Yes, Stuart Auditorium where all of our meetings and worship service happen can get HOT when you are packed in like sardines 2,000 of your new best friends.

Yes, the business sessions can run long.

Yes, when the debate heats up about the nuts and bolts of insurance policies, I get lost in thought dreaming about the future of the church and not the specifics of coverage.

But even at Annual Conference, beautiful, life-giving ministry happens. 

We celebrate ministry that calls us all to go beyond the walls of our churches and BE the CHURCH in the community. We celebrate the openning of new churches and launching of new missional partnerships between schools and congregation. We grieve as some churches are closed and some partnerships that have run their course. We celebrate the lives of the clergy who have passed away in the past year and celebrate the ministry of the retiring clergy. We welcome new pastors into the Annual Conference through ordination and commissioning and the licensing of local pastors. Relationships are re-kindled at seminary and ministry gatherings and new ones are built as we bond over the free water bottles and candy at the many tents.

And, this year several new and inspiring things happened that give me hope for the future of the United Methodist Church.

  1. Inclusion of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgendered, Intersex, and Queer and Questioning peoples was mentioned from the pulpit in the opening prayer of the opening worship in response to the shooting last weekend at the Pulse nightclub. You can find the full prayer here.
  2. The Reconciling Ministries Network Worship Service was packed! The service has grown from 30 people in 2012 to 325 in 2016! Rodney shared his experience with the church throughout his life to the group gathered there and we will share his words on the blog tomorrow. And Jen Phipps led us with music. One of the many moving moments was when we joined hands together singing "We Shall Overcome."
  3. We passed a smaller budget and clergy health care and pension plans that are both less expensive for churches and more beneficial to the pastors! We have people leading us who are being good stewards of our resources while taking good care of us as pastors and as congregations!
  4. I got to witness one of my best friends and 34 other of my clergy colleagues get ordained on Saturday night. I'm constantly encouraged, challenged, and inspired by many of the pastors in this Annual Conference.
  5. We experienced fellowship around the table at each meal where people of different perspectives were able to gather around the table, share in human life together, and see each other as a child of God. 

We also said good-bye to Bishop Goodpaster as he looks forward to retirement on September 1st of this year. Bishop G has been an advocate of the ministry that God does with us here at THE WALK and his presence will be missed! Our new Bishop will be selected in mid-July at Jurisdictional (Regional) Conference.

If you want to read the sermons delivered at Annual Conference, you can do so here. I was particularly moved by Bishop McClain's sermon at Opening Worship.

Throughout the week we will post reflections from the rest of THE WALKers who made their way up the moutnain to Lake Junaluska!



Saturday, June 4, 2016

Meet Joey Honeycutt, our summer Duke Intern!

Hi, folks!  

I wanted to take a quick second to introduce myself.  I'm Joey Honeycutt, your summer Duke Div intern, and I'm thrilled to get to be part of The Walk and get to know and spend time with all of you over the next several weeks.  As a few of you already know, I currently live in Carrboro with my wife, Rebecca, our two cats (Frank and Betty), and our Corgi/Beagle mix, Ollie.  When I'm not in school or at FaithWalk, I spend a lot of time reading biographies of famous people, watching unforgivably geeky TV shows, and enjoying old movies.

Prior to starting Div School at Duke, I earned a Masters of Social Work at UNC-Charlotte in 2009 and spent the next six years serving survivors of sexual and relationship violence.  It was through doing that work with trauma survivors that God eventually called me into ministry, and I'm now in the process of discerning how God intends for me to combine my experience and passion for serving survivors of trauma with my call to serve God and God's people.  

I'm currently pursuing ordination in the United Church of Christ, but I was raised United Methodist, and I'm excited to get to be a part of such a rich, dynamic, and unique Methodist environment through my Faith Walk internship.  I've already experienced such a warm and affirming welcome here at the Walk, and I'm greatly looking forward to getting to work alongside y'all this summer as we see what kind of awesome adventure God has in store for us.  Thank you for having me! 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

"I see red!": Reflections on Pentecost, General Conference, and well, red!

"I see red!" she answered.

 Incredibly confused, I responded: "But I asked how you were doing!"

 "All I see is a sea of red. Flowers that is. Poinsettias!" Margie exclaimed.

If you catch Margie Brinkley for a few moments in November or December, you will most likely find her drowning in a sea of red! Not just any red, but you can find her drowning in her growing sea of poinsettias which will ultimately help deck the halls of homes and churches and stores for the season of Christmas.

 Yet, many months later, her words "I see red!" still ring true.

Red--the color of anger, energy, fire, love, blood, fire trucks, and the best flavor of Jolly Ranchers (watermelon, obviously)--swirls around us and within us beyond the season of Christmas. Red is the color of warning and warming. Red tells us when to stop and slow down. Red reminds us of the pulse of our hearts, of life itself. Red is a color full of the Spirit.

As we turn our hearts and minds to this Sunday in the life of the church, we can't help but to extend Margie's chorus:
"I see red!"

This Sunday--Pentecost Sunday--is a day in which we remember the birth of the church. It is a time full of spirit, energy, love, confusion, and passion--even divided tongues of fire! It's one of my favorite moments in our Christian narrative because people from different places and races and background and identities come together to form the early church. They each receive the presence of the Holy Spirit--each person is given a sense of belonging and purpose equally in the eyes of God. The room is full of such intensity and chaos that bystanders start to wonder if everyone is drunk! It is as if they are looking out onto a sea of red--passion, love, energy, and the spirit.

Some 2000 years later, United Methodists from across the world gather in a convention center in Portland, OR for General Conference. We gather, as we do every four years, trusting and praying that the Holy Spirit shows up in a sea of red just as the Spirit did that Pentecost Sunday to shape us into the church. We trust and pray that the Spirit shows up breathing life into the church, reigniting our mission and vision, and binding us together across cultures, identities, and classes.

And yet, when I watch the twitterfeed and live stream of General Conference this week, I can't help but say: "I see red!" ...but in a different way.

Yes, I see red present in the sense of energy and love and passion. Yes, I see red in the sense of the Spirit as present in worship and in Holy Conversation. But, red is also all too present in the sense of danger, determination, war, division, strength, and power that too often dominate conversations and the way we interact with one another.

Red, a color of deep emotion and passion, can quickly during to divide us rather than to bind us. 

In these days of Holy Conferencing leading up to Pentecost, in the days of HB2 and politics ostracizing and dividing North Carolinians, in the days of the "church" becoming less relevant, I long to see red in the ways that bind us together as the presence of the Spirit did at the birth of the early church.

  • I long to see red as people bound together by the Spirit and Christ's love--not divided or exiled out of fear.
  • I long to see red as God's mercy and justice and passion alive and igniting the community to be a place where all people find a sense of belonging and purpose.
  • I long to see red as the energy, passion, and change that the Kingdom of God brings as it bursts into our midst.

And I wonder what it may take for us to join our voices together with Margie's chorus and say: "I see red!"
Red, as the thread that goes from the birth of Christ, of God with us, to the birth of the church, to the rebirth of the church today.

I see red. Do you?

Join me in wearing red to worship this Sunday at THE WALK 9am and 11am and let's become that sea of red!


Pastor Carter
Lead Pastor, THE WALK [FaithWalk UMC]

Saturday, April 23, 2016

How does someone count time?

How does someone count time? Is time marked by hours on a clock? Whether the sun or moon is in the sky? The authors of Genesis believed time is a gift given by God to the cosmos, marked by six days of labor and one of rest. We read that God spent six days (or six millennia) dreaming, forming, and perfecting the cosmos then God took a day to rest. We do the same, for six days we work, building and perfecting the kingdom of human beings, then on the seventh we rest. This is time: the week. We begin and end our week on the sabbath, a day of rest and relaxation when we can unwind and spend going on hikes or seeing our friends. We refuel and take a moment to enjoy life. 

Then, as God has a habit of doing, God disrupts this view of time. On Friday Christ died, and on Sunday, the first day of the week, He rose from death and gave life and love the final word! No longer is Sunday the first day of the week, but now Sunday is also the 8th day, the day of new creation – the Lord’s day. On this day we come together to celebrate new life, worship our God, and renew our commitment as disciples to preach the good news.

For this past school year I have set my internal clock around my time with you all. Each week I have the opportunity and blessing to travel to THE WALK and celebrate the Lord’s day with each of you; I fall in love with humanity and God all over again through our worship. Saturday and Sunday have become the anchors of my sense of time. On Saturday, the sabbath, I rest, but on Sunday I go back to work and rejoice all that God is doing in each of us and in each of those in our communities. My moments with you have become a treasure that I hold onto and remember when I am worn out and weary.

I thank each of your for being transparently the voices of God to me, and I will miss each of you this summer.  My sense of time is changing, and while this is expected, I don’t want to see it change just yet. I hope your sense of time also holds dear your time at THE WALK, for when we gather together to worship we are creating sacred time. I look forward to seeing you very soon and wish each of you well this summer in all you hope to dream, build, and redeem. 

-Ross Johnson