Teaching children about Holy Week: Telling the whole story

A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino*
The story of Holy Week is not exactly family-friendly, but that doesn’t mean we can skip the part about Jesus’ journey to the cross when sharing our faith with our children.
“I think it’s important for parents to share the whole story of Holy Week,” says Kathy Schmucker, Spiritual Formation Director at Faith United Methodist Church in North Canton, Ohio. “Often children are in worship on Palm Sunday and then not again until Easter Sunday and they miss out on these important stories of our faith.”
 
Mark Burrows, Director of Children’s Ministries at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas agrees. “One of my mantras around here is, Children need more, and want more, than rainbows and butterflies… Without the Holy Week experiences,” he continues, “the story is incomplete.”
 
Adults should be mindful of how they tell children the difficult and sad story of Jesus’ death, but children are capable of processing it when shared appropriately.
 
“Children are open to the cycle of life and the reality that everything has birth and dies,” Melanie Gordon, former Director of Ministry with Children with Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church explains. “We only need to make it simple for them. Talk to them in terms they will understand.”
 
Lent

 

Taking pictures: “One way to engage children in looking at the cycle of life during Lent,” Gordon offers, “is through a camera lens by seeking out images that help us turn to God.” Picture Lent, a ministry of the Life Enrichment Center of the Florida Annual Conference, invites participants to post pictures to social media that relate to daily devotions on their blog. “This is an excellent way to use media as a positive tool,” Gordon says.
 
Palm Sunday
 

 Donating coats: Holy Week begins with a celebration. On Palm Sunday, Jesus’ followers cheer him as he enters Jerusalem, laying their cloaks on the ground for Jesus’ animal to walk on.

Schmucker’s congregation uses this story as an opportunity to serve.
“We invite the congregation to bring coats to worship on Palm Sunday,” she explains. “During the Parade of Palms
 the children gather all the coats and bring them to the altar as an offering.”’
 
In our homes, after telling our children about Palm Sunday, we can go with them to their closets to select coats and clothes they no longer need. Donate the clothes and teach your children how giving to others is a way of giving to Jesus (see Matthew 25:31-40).
 

Maundy (Holy) Thursday

Water and washing:
 
During Holy Week, Burrows holds special children’s worship services at First United Methodist Church, Fort Worth. He describes these gatherings as “highly experiential.”
 

“For example, we do a foot washing on Maundy Thursday,” the night Jesus washed his disciples’ feet (John 13). “Kids always get to pass if they want to,” he continues, “but we find most of them aren’t weirded out yet about having their feet ceremonially washed.”

Schmucker also designs tactile experiences. One year she witnessed a special moment at a prayer station reflecting on Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.
 
“It was a beautiful, tender moment shared between father and son as they washed each other’s hands and prayed for each other,” she remembers.
 
We can create similar moment in the home at bath time, while washing the dishes, or watching rain or snow fall. As the water makes everything clean, Jesus makes us clean and new through the forgiveness of our sins.
 
A family meal: Dinner on Holy Thursday can also be a teaching moment. Share with your children how when Jesus gathered his disciples for that special meal, he told them he was excited to be with them before things got difficult (see Luke 22:15).
 
Tell your children how much you enjoy eating dinner together. Remind them that they can come to you when things are hard, and that you and Jesus will always be there for them.
 
Good Friday
 

 Acknowledge sadness: Sharing the painful and sad story of Good Friday with your children can be challenging.

“We talk about the day Jesus died, that he died on a cross, and that it hurt,” Burrows explains. “But we don’t focus on what people did to Jesus. Instead, we focus on what Jesus was doing for them—blessing the people, asking God to forgive, he even blesses another who is on the cross.”
 
Burrows reminds parents that “children can’t un-see images or un-hear words.” He continues, “I work very hard to be honest without being graphic.”
 

It is a good time to remind children that sometimes we feel sad, and that is OK. God is with us even in our sadness.   Legos and butterflies: One year, Schmucker taught children about grief by telling them about the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. She shared people’s sadness at the destruction of the Temple, an image Jesus used to talk about his death (John 2:18-22). She also told them that people today write prayers and place them in the crevices in the wall.

 
The children then helped help her build a prayer wall out of Legos. When it was complete, they put their prayers in the wall.
 
Later they “took the prayers from the Wailing Wall and folded them into butterflies,” Schmucker explains. “The butterfly prayers were then strung across the ceiling of the worship space for Easter morning” as a symbol of resurrection and new life.
 
We can set aside places in our homes for our families to write their prayers on scraps of colored paper each day during Holy Week. Then on Easter Sunday, the family can work together to make a colorful butterfly collage with the prayers.
 
Easter Sunday

 

After sharing the difficult story of Holy Week, your children will be ready to celebrate Easter with a new understanding.
 
“I believe it’s important … that [parents] also share the Resurrection story so that children are learning the whole story, that this is a story of God’s amazing love for us,” Schmucker concludes. “The events of Maundy Thursday and Holy Week may be hard to hear and tell, but they are important to our understanding Easter.”
 

In the comments below, tell us how you have shared the Holy Week story with children. This feature was originally published on March 3, 2016.   *Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.

 
 

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Why eggs? Why lilies? Easter traditions explained

 
For most Christians, Easter is the most important day of the year. However, when it comes to traditions such as decorated eggs, lilies and Peter Cottontail, even the most seasoned Easter celebrants may have questions. Several years ago we got some answers from a variety of United Methodist experts.
 
How do decorated eggs relate to Easter?
According to Eastern Orthodox tradition, Mary Magdalene visited the Emperor Tiberius and showed him an egg as a way to talk about the Resurrection of Jesus. “One version of this story,” says the Rev. Taylor W. Burton-Edwards, former director of worship resources for United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, “is that the egg was white to start with, that the emperor scoffed that resurrection was as likely as the white egg turning red, and then it did turn red.
 
Another version is that the egg was red to begin with, as a sign of the blood of Christ.” Orthodox icons often portray Mary Magdalene holding a red egg or a flask of myrrh. Burton-Edwards notes, “Iconography means ‘icon writing,’ not ‘icon painting,’ and that the images ‘written’ here were intended to convey ideas and theology more than factual stories.” The egg itself was already a sign of new life in Eastern cultures.
 
“The flask of myrrh in her other hand, usually also in a reddish hue, was a sign of Mary’s presence at the tomb to anoint Christ’s body for burial,” he adds. “If (Mary) needed to be a sign of both death and resurrection, she might hold both items. If she needed to be a sign more of one than the other, she might hold only one.”
 
The origin of people coloring and decorating eggs is not certain. Some sources report the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians and Romans colored eggs for spring festivals. In medieval Europe, people offered beautifully decorated eggs as gifts. In Russia and Poland, writes Pamela Kennedy in The Symbols of Easter, people spent hours drawing intricate designs on Easter eggs. In early America, children colored eggs using dyes made from bark, berries and leaves. As the story of Christ’s Resurrection spread, Kennedy adds, “people saw the egg as a symbol of the stone tomb from which Christ rose. They viewed the hatching birds and chicks as symbols of the new life Jesus promised his followers.
 
What is the origin of the Easter egg hunt”?
In England, Germany and some other countries, children rolled eggs down hills on Easter morning to symbolize the rolling away of the stone from Jesus’ tomb. British settlers brought this custom to the New World. In 1814, Dolley Madison, the wife of President James Madison, introduced the most famous Easter egg roll, which still takes place annually on the White House south lawn. How did the Easter Bunny become associated with this sacred Christian season?
 
Ancient Egyptians, according to Kennedy, believed the rabbit was responsible for the new life that abounded in the spring. “An old European legend says that the hare, a relative of the rabbit, never closed its eyes. Since it watched the other animals all night long, the hare became a symbol of the moon. The hare was soon connected with Easter because the holiday’s date depends upon the full moon.”
 
According to other sources, 18th-century German settlers introduced “Oschter Haws” (Easter Hare), the character many children know as the Easter Bunny, to America. Pennsylvania Dutch settlers prepared nests in the barn or garden for Oschter Haws. On Easter eve, the rabbit laid his colored eggs in the nests. (In Germany, Oschter Haws lays red eggs on Maundy Thursday.)
 
Why do some hold sunrise services in cemeteries?
Different groups may have different answers. Some sources state that a Moravian congregation in Herrnhut, Saxony, had the first Easter sunrise service in 1732. After an all-night prayer vigil, the unmarried men went to the town graveyard to sing hymns of praise to the risen Lord. The next year, the entire congregation joined them. Moravian missionaries spread the tradition around the world.
 
Burton-Edwards cites an ancient tradition recorded in The Apostolic Constitutions in 380 in Syria. Early Christians held a vigil of prayer on Holy Saturday in cemeteries where Christians were buried. “Keeping watch with these dead in Christ was in a way also keeping watch with Christ who was in the tomb on this day, awaiting resurrection. It appears to have been a way of identifying themselves with the ‘voices under the altar’ in Revelation, crying out, ‘How long?'” This was more than a memorial service or paying respects to the dead. Burton-Edwards terms it “a true vigil—a watch with the dead in Christ awaiting the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ and the return of Christ to raise and judge all the dead.”
 
The practice of the early Christians may have informed some traditions in the United States. Burton-Edwards, who grew up Southern Baptist, says, “We regularly did sunrise services in a large cemetery on Easter morning. For us, it was also a way of proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ and awaiting the resurrection of the dead.” How did lilies come to be Easter lilies? The Easter lily is a relatively new tradition – first brought to the United States in 1882 from Bermuda. The large, pure-white blossoms remind Christians of the pure, new life that comes through the Resurrection of Jesus.
 
According to legend, Kennedy writes, when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, the flowers bowed their heads in grief and pity. “But the proud lily would not bow its lovely white head. “The next day, the lily discovered that Jesus was going to be crucified. The flower felt so miserable about how it had acted … that it bowed its head in shame. To honor the Lord Jesus and to show its sorrow, the lily has grown with a down-turned blossom ever since that first Good Friday.”
 
 
*This story is adapted from a piece written by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, former internal content editor for United Methodist Communications. This story was first published April 20, 2011.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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How to Stay Connected After Conflict

A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino

In every relationship, conflict is possible. Disagreements occur in families, during church committee meetings, in parking lots and wherever else human beings gather. Our disagreements don’t need to divide us, however. The Bible tells us, “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18 CEB). To help us stay connected during and after disagreements with family members, church friends and others, we asked some United Methodist experts for their best advice.
 
Humanize the other
“We have the tendency to slide into polarization when faced with conflict,” shares the Rev. April Casperson, Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the West Ohio Conference. “Polarization helps us to keep the other person at arm’s length and disregard their humanity… If you find yourself dehumanizing or distancing from the other person,” she continues, “consider thinking about how they may be similar to you.”
“I always try to stay in touch with the narratives that I’m telling myself about the other so it doesn’t reinforce anger and hurt,” shares the Rev. W. Craig Gilliam, Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach and conflict transformation facilitator/consultant. If we don’t keep in touch with the stories we tell ourselves, they will slowly change to make us look better and the other worse.
 
Pray for them
“The other is a human being created in the image of God. That is where I have to start,” says Garlinda Burton, a deaconess in The United Methodist Church serving as Director of Resource Development at the United Methodist General Commission on Religion and Race. Remembering this helps us begin to pray for the other.

Pray for them by name every night in your prayers,” she advises. “I find that it helps humanize the other.”

Acknowledge the hurt
“Honor the emotions you feel,” teaches the Rev. Ronald Greer, author and Director of the Pastoral Counseling Service at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. “Get them out. Give them a voice. Talk. Journal. Pray. Do the emotional work to heal within.”
 
Affirm the relationship
In addition to getting in touch with the hurt, it is helpful to remember the relationship we share with the other. “This will allow each participant in the conflict to be more open about pain and disagreement,” teaches the Rev. M. Scott Hughes, Executive Director of Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship with Discipleship Ministries.

Gilliam, who coaches pastors in the Louisiana Conference, shares about a time when a pastor and church member sought his help in resolving their conflict. He encouraged each to share things they valued in one another. After several moments of silence, one of them finally started. They spent several minutes telling one another what they appreciated about the other. “It changed the entire conversation,” Gilliam continues, “because they learned to genuinely affirm another and see what’s right in them instead of what’s wrong.”

Seek to understand
“O divine master,” reads the Prayer of St. Francis (UM Hymnal 481), “grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.” That’s good advice when we disagree. Rather than explaining your side one more time, try to comprehend their position.

“Come to understand the other’s perspective,” advises Greer. “This is a human being, just like you, and likely one with whom you can identify… If you will, you can put yourself in his or her place.”

Remain humble
Humility, the ability to accept that you may not be totally right and they may not be completely wrong, is also helpful.

“Everybody’s experience is not your experience,” Burton reminds us. “If you are in a majority or dominant culture,” she continues, “you should not assume that everyone’s life experience is the same as yours.” Remembering and honoring that we are different people can help greatly.

Apologize
As we humbly recognize our own responsibility for the conflict, we may need to say we’re sorry.

“Consider whether an apology is in order,” Casperson advises. “Then give that apology with no strings attached.” “’I’m sorry’ is a good start, but it isn’t enough,” explains Greer. “Speak to the specifics of what happened and your part in it. Then express your intentions of how you plan to handle similar situations with her differently in the future.”

Care for yourself
In the midst of conflict, be sure to take care of yourself.

“Jesus reminds us to love God and to love one another,” Casperson teaches. “Sometimes we forget that we are a part of the ‘one another.’” Be sure to find those places where you can feed your own spirit. Gilliam quotes poet Wallace Stephens, “Perhaps / The truth depends on a walk around a lake.” “Part of healing has to do with giving ourselves permission to take that walk,” Gilliam adds. “We don’t have to fix it right now.” “When real pain is involved,” Hughes similarly reminds us, “it will take multiple conversations over a period of time before trust replaces suspicion,” and real healing can occur.

Sometimes, it can’t be fixed
“Sometimes the relationship isn’t worth continuing,” Hughes suggests, “when there is too much pain and it is not beneficial long-term for anybody.”

Other times the person will not want to remain relationship with us. “If another chooses not to reconnect it’s only appropriate, as painful as it might be, to honor that choice,” Gilliam shares, “but I can at least know that I genuinely extended a hand to try to reconnect.”

 
 

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Kindness is the new Evangelism

 
Kindness is the new Evangelism
By Andrew Ponder Williams on March 6, 2019
 
Andrew Ponder Williams says that simple acts of kindness can counter the dominant cultural narrative of meanness and be a powerful way for the church to connect with others. Kindness, he suggests, is the new evangelism.
 

So much of the narrative in our culture today can be summarized as just plain mean. From the way customers behave at the corner restaurant to the dialogue of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, there is no shortage of people being nasty.

As Christians at our best, we spend our energy decrying the cruelty of all those around us. At our worst, we fall victim to the same cruelty within the walls of our congregations. What if, instead, our response to society’s fixation on bad behavior was to model a different way?
 
We have traditionally thought of evangelism as an invitation to those outside the church to experience God’s love by joining us inside the church. Instead, what if simple acts of kindness to those beyond the walls of our churches became our new approach to evangelism?
 
The power of basic kindness
I did not realize the power of basic kindness until the students I shepherded in a campus ministry at the University of California, Irvine, came up with a distinct outreach plan. Instead of having a table lined up next to all the other church groups at the student involvement fair, we decided to offer random acts of kindness to students roaming the campus between classes.
 
Thanks to my spouse’s occupation at a grocery store, I was able to buy a whole bunch of chocolate chip cookies for a fair price. We wrapped each cookie in a napkin and included a small card inviting students to our weekly dinner. If you ever want to feel like a celebrity, stand in the middle of a busy college campus corridor with a whole bunch of cookies!
 
What we learned about kindness
We experienced three types of reactions from the students. One was instant glee that there were cookies and that they were free. The second was to politely decline the cookie initially but return within approximately 30 seconds to inquire if they really were free. The third was to completely refuse the cookie out of disbelief that we were giving away cookies without a gimmick.
 
These responses taught us something about kindness. Kindness is simple but challenging. Kindness is global. (So are cookies!) Kindness is Christian. Kindness is contagious. But some people will never believe that something desirable is free.
 
The varied reactions to our random acts of kindness created many opportunities for our student leaders to begin conversations with those who received cookies. Our kindness to everyone in our midst frequently made people ask us who we were before we could volunteer the information. We discovered that kindness not only attracted positive attention to our ministry, it also helped us stand out from the crowd within the Christian community on our campus.
 

How can kindness be a form of evangelism in your context? The most effective uses of kindness are highly visible and interpersonal. Here are some starter ideas for a variety of contexts:

1. Facility-use evangelism
Your church likely hosts outside community gatherings, from Scouts to recovery support groups. Pick a couple weeks a year to leave snacks and other fun things in a visible spot in the meeting rooms of these community groups. Make sure to include bright and simple literature about your church that highlights your desire to welcome them into a deeper connection.
 
2. Sermon series
You can’t go wrong with a sermon series on kindness. This is a great way to get your congregation thinking about how they can live out their faith by simply being kind.
 
3. Define kindness as central to your mission and values

You can work with your congregational leadership to define kindness as a part of your congregation’s mission and core values. This will establish a distinct culture for your ministry.

4. Offer kindness to those in crisis
Watch your local news to see where kindness is urgently needed in your community. Perhaps the staff of a bank that was robbed would appreciate encouraging notes.
 
Cookies
Of course, we are ending with cookies. If all else fails, pass out free cookies to strangers of any age. From neighborhood sporting events to senior centers to college campuses, you will make someone’s day meaningful and memorable. All those you reach will come to associate your church with kindness (and cookies). That’s evangelism at its sweetest.
 
 
 

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Many U.S. presidents have Methodist ties

 

Many U.S. presidents have Methodist ties  By Courtney Aldrich* They escorted Abraham Lincoln’s body to his burial in Illinois. They served lemonade to guests at the White House in an age of temperance. They had roles in inaugurations and extended spiritual advice to presidents on justice issues, ranging from slavery to war.
 
United Methodists have a long history of ties to U.S. presidencies. In fact, Methodism began its relationship with the presidency through the general who would become the nation’s first elected leader. After the Revolutionary War, Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury approached George Washington (1789-97) twice, first presenting an anti-slavery petition from Methodist bishops, and later to assure the new president of Methodist support for the new republic.
 
It would be more than a century after the nation’s birth, however, before a Methodist would be in the White House as president. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81) attended Methodist schools and, as president, attended Foundry Church, a Methodist church in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Lucy. One of the founders and the first president of the Home Missionary Society (a precursor of United Methodist Women), Lucy was known affectionately by White House guests as “Lemonade Lucy” because she did not serve alcohol at White House functions, following Methodism’s commitment to temperance.
 
Less than two decades later, another Methodist, William M
cKinley (1897-1901), was elected president. Early in life, McKinley had considered the Methodist ministry, but later became a lawyer. He remained active at the Methodist Church of the Savior in Canton, Ohio. He served as Sunday school superintendent and trustee. McKinley’s assassination in 1901, after election to his second term in office, left an impact on the Methodist denomination, according to Dale Patterson at the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History. “It touched the hearts of church members in a lot of places,” he said. “I’ve personally seen windows dedicated to President McKinley inside churches in Kansas and Oklahoma.”
 
McKinley death touched many hearts
Funeral services were held at McKinley’s home church in Canton, where reminders of the assassinated president still can be found. On the west wall of the sanctuary are four stained-glass windows, given to the church by his widow in memory of her late husband. The flag that draped his casket is displayed in the church library. A century later, George W. Bush (2001-09) entered the office as the nation’s first United Methodist president. Raised in Presbyterian and Episcopal churches, Bush became a United Methodist after marrying his wife, Laura, a lifelong Methodist, in 1977. Both attended and taught Sunday school at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. After he was elected governor of Texas in 1994, Bush worshipped at the Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin. Today, his presidential library is  on the Dallas campus of Southern Methodist University, the alma mater of his wife.  
 
Other presidents also have Methodist connections.
James K. Polk (1845-49) had a conversion experience at a Methodist camp and considered himself a Methodist, though he continued to attend Presbyterian services out of respect to his mother and his wife. Shortly before his death, Polk was baptized and confirmed into the Methodist church by the Rev. John B. McFerrin, the same pastor who was present at his conversion years before. While in the White House, Andrew Johnson (1865-69) accompanied his wife, Eliza, to services at Foundry Church. Almost 125 years later, Bill Clinton (1993-2001), a Southern Baptist, would do the same with his wife, Hillary, a lifelong Methodist.
 
God bless the Methodist church’
Although never baptized into any church, Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77) regularly attended services at Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. “Grant was very sympathetic with the Methodists,” said Patterson, noting Grant was friends with Methodist Bishop John P. Newman, who was present when Grant died of cancer in 1885. Visits from presidents, no matter their denomination, continue to be points of pride for United Methodist congregations across the nation such as First United Methodist Church, Jasper, Ala., where a funeral in 1940 for House Speaker John Brockman Bankhead brought President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45), along with future president Harry Truman (1945-53), to its sanctuary.
 
Today, a large brass plaque marks the pew where Roosevelt sat. United Methodists also have had a role in high-profile ceremonies related to the presidency. When President Barack Obama was inaugurated into office in 2009, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a United Methodist pastor and civil rights activist, delivered a prayer. Lowery has served churches in Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; and Montgomery, Ala.
 
Even Abraham Lincoln (1861-65), who frequently spoke of Christian principles but had no specific church ties, was touched by Methodism. His parents were married by a Methodist minister in Washington County, Ky. Later, at Lincoln’s White House, a frequent visitor was Methodist Bishop Matthew Simpson. After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Simpson traveled with the president’s body back to Springfield, Ill., and delivered the eulogy. The presence of a Methodist bishop for Lincoln’s funeral was no surprise given his respect for the Methodist church. In 1864, shortly before his death, Lincoln offered this praise for the young denomination: “It is no fault in others that the Methodist Church sends more soldiers to the field, more nurses to the hospitals, and more prayers to Heaven than any. God bless the Methodist Church. Bless all the churches and blessed be God, who in this our trial, giveth us the churches.”

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Need love advice? Don’t ask John Wesley

Need love advice? Don’t ask John Wesley
A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino*
As United Methodists, we often turn to the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, as an authority in many aspects of life. Romantic love, however, should not be one of them. John Wesley struggled to find love. Photo by United Methodist Communications used with permission from the Methodist Collection of Drew University Library. . Wesley preached helpful sermons about everyday issues such as, “The Use of Money,” “On Obedience to Parents,” and “On Patience.” He offered medical advice to those in need of healing. His Primitive Physick: or An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Disease, was a best-seller during his lifetime. It included diet and dental advice. All of this, of course, was in addition to his incredible work in building a movement for Christian discipleship development that grew in England and in what would become the United States. A master of theology, 18th century medicine, the Biblical languages, and church organization, Wesley was and is respected in many areas of life. His love life, however, was a bit of disaster. In John Wesley the Methodist: A Plain Account of His Life and Work, an anonymous Methodist preacher (probably a compilation edited by Bishop John Fletcher Hurst) tells of four romantic relationships of Wesley.
 
Betty Kirkham
He met the first, Betty Kirkham, in the early days of the Methodist movement. Kirkham was the sister of one of the men in the Holy Club at Oxford. According to John Wesley the Methodist, Wesley “corresponded in the curious stilted manner of the day—a style he afterward utterly forsook.” The relationship, if there was one beyond some love letters, did not work out.
 
Sophy Hopkey
On his missionary journey to Georgia, Wesley met and fell in love with Sophy Hopkey, whom the anonymous Methodist preacher describes as “the attractive niece of the chief magistrate of Savannah.” According to Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism by Henry D. Rack, “Wesley was in love and would have liked to marry Sophy, but was torn by conflicts between love, duty, notions of the value of celibacy, and more…which led him to blow alternately hot and cold until the bewildered girl married elsewhere.” From there, the story gets a little fuzzy. In his role as Hopkey’s pastor, it appears Wesley advised her not to marry for the sake of her spiritual growth. When she did, Wesley felt it his duty to rebuke her and refused to serve her communion. Her new husband pressed charges, and Wesley’s reputation was tarnished. Before things escalated too far, Wesley boarded a boat back home to England. Grace Murray served as a band leader at The Foundry, Methodisms first building. Lithograph by H. Humphreys, ca. 1865, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
 
Grace Murray
Some years later, Wesley met what may have been the love of his life, Grace Murray. Murray, a sea-captain’s widow, was a Methodist band leader. Though John Bennet, one of Wesley’s preachers was also in love with her, Wesley asked for her hand in marriage, and she said yes. At least this is what Wesley thought had happened. He “did this in so convoluted and hesitant a manner and with so many delays that Grace was left in uncertainty,” Rack reports. Bennet also proposed to Murray, and a dispute between the two suitors ensued, each claiming to have asked her first. After arbitration and much confusion, Grace Murray and John Bennet were married.  Charles Wesley, John’s brother, conducted the ceremony. Charles never thought John should marry Murray. He believed she was, in the words of the anonymous Methodist preacher, “a woman who was so inferior to his own wife in social station,” and therefore not good enough to marry his brother.
 
Wesley’s marriage to Molly
Finally, on February 18 or 19, 1751, John Wesley married Mary (Molly) Vazeille, the widow of a London Merchant, in a private ceremony. Unfortunately, their marriage was rocky almost from the start. Wesley believed that a Methodist preacher should not travel one mile less because of marriage, a standard from which he did not exempt himself. “This was not a very wise prescription for marriage,” Rack writes, “though it was commonly followed by the early preachers and their heroic wives.” Later in life, Wesley came to see his love life struggles as a gift from God. Portrait by Frank O. Salisbury, courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Wesley’s travel schedule put a strain on their marriage. At first, Molly accompanied him, but soon it was too much. It seems she began to resent their time apart. Molly left Wesley several times only to return. Then, in the mid-1770s, she left for good. Molly died in October 1781.
 
A blessing in disguise?
Late in life, Wesley consoled himself by seeing his disastrous love life as a blessing from God. The anonymous Methodist preacher reports that one of Wesley’s colleagues agreed, wondering if Wesley “might have been unfaithful to his great work,” had one of his relationships been successful. Be that as it may, one thing is certain. Though Wesley was a great thinker and leader in so many areas of life, it would be unwise to have ever taken dating advice from him.
 
Sources John Wesley the Methodist: A Plain Account of His Life and Work by A Methodist Preacher, “Chapter XX – The True John Wesley.” Available from the Wesley Center Online. Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism by Henry D. Rack. Abingdon Press. Available in print only.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The Connector

By Eddie Pipkin – emc3 Consulting
January 31, 2019
 

When we talk about the importance of hospitality for local churches, we can easily get caught up in the discussion of welcome systems and welcome centers and welcome training and welcome gifts.  A good process and a clear vision are important if we want to make guests feel appreciated when they come through our door, but if you ask a person (or a couple, or a family) to tell their story of how they came to call your church home, they will almost, without exception, focus on the one person who showed them around, engaged them in lengthy conversation, became an instant friend, and made them feel at home.  They will be describing The Connector. The Connector is that socially enthusiastic, glad-handing, happy-to-meet-you-let-me-show-you-around person who is part of every local congregation.  This is true in large congregations and tiny congregations.  They have a way of making guests immediately feel warmly welcomed to the party.  They are an excellent example of the way that local church leadership should embrace and empower people who are naturally gifted for specific roles in ministry. If you have a Connector as part of your membership (and most of you are even now vividly picturing this person at work), they should definitely be a part of your hospitality package.  God has placed within our context people of specific gifts, talents, abilities, and interests (you know this – it’s biblical leadership 101), but we sometimes miss the obvious, organic nature of the resources God has generously provided us.  To take the organic metaphor further, here’s what I mean: we are given a beautiful, wildly enthusiastic plant, glorious to behold if nurtured and allowed to reach its potential in the garden, but we plop it in a pot that binds its roots and stunts its growth so that it becomes a pale facsimile of what it might have been.  How does this happen?  Because we take the raw talent with which God has gifted us and too often confine it to a pre-determined fixed structure we’ve already created on a spreadsheet and approved in a meeting. Think about this: Here’s how we most often function once we get serious about a topic like hospitality: We form a committee; we devise a plan; we write a report, we create a flow chart for the process and structure we’ve designed, then we go recruit people to fill the roles we have designated.  Generally, the next step is that we are frustrated that people don’t immediately jump in with enthusiasm to fulfill our obviously brilliant plan. Consider this alternative: What if we did one these two things (or both simultaneously).  1) What if we identified the persons among us who already exemplify the qualities we are looking for in hospitality?  2) What if we put out a general call for people who are interested in hospitality?  (Not people who are interested in filling a specified role, like “greeters” or “parking lot attendants” or “handers out of bulletins” or “communion servers” but just “people interested in exploring or providing hospitality, and we left the description generically open in that way – this could include all of those traditionally understood hospitality tasks, but it could also include bakers or artists or prayer warriors or something nobody has thought of – it also doesn’t limit folks by age or experience level, etc.).  Then, what if we got all those people together to brainstorm what hospitality ministry will look like – not just a scientifically sealed perfect version of what hospitality will look like, but a vision of hospitality based on the “personality” and “context” of the people in that place in that time.  This honors the gifts and abilities, passions and enthusiasms present in the room, while it maximizes the potential of all the players in the mix.  It honors the unique contributions that each individual has to make. This approach can be effective for hospitality (which is what we’re discussing today), but it is effective in approaching all sorts of ministry. The old-school formula for creating a detailed scheme for hospitality and then recruiting an obvious Connector to run it, sometimes smashes up against these problems:

  • The Connector is not a leader. We confuse being really good at something with being able to lead other people in that area (a mistake that we make again and again, across the board, in recruiting leadership positions).  To compound that mistake, we rarely teach “leadership.”  We are too busy focusing on specific issues, theological and logistical.  There is a unique flavor of misery that is the misery in which you just want to be free to do the thing you are really good at, but you’ve been forced to wrangle and direct other people (which you don’t enjoy and aren’t good at).
  • The Connector does not fit in any of the designated hospitality slots you have created in your flow chart. They want to do what they’re good at, but you keep chiding them for being too slow at handing out bulletins or wandering off from the designated place they are supposed to stand.

On the other hand, a Connector empowered to do his or her own thing is beautiful to watch.  Even so, having freed up these hospitality artists and given them some training and direction, so they can do what they do effectively and efficiently, follow up in these ways:

  • Be sure you’ve reviewed with them the best thinking on how to make people feel warmly welcomed without coming on too uncomfortably strong.
  • Make sure they know how to “connect” people with resources that can answer their questions and ministry individuals who can get them plugged in. The goal is not to connect them to the glorious personality of The Connector but to connect them to the congregational family and the ministries with which they’ll fit.  There’s a real difference between the sweet, grandma type that hugs people at the door (and you need her, too) and the power of The Connector to transition people from welcome to engaged.
  • Use the passion and skills of The Connector to inspire and instruct the other components of your Hospitality Team. They can naturally share the techniques they use to engage guests and the attitudes that empower their positivity.
  • Take that last point a step further by making The Connector the poster child for hospitality in your congregation. Most Connectors (who are social butterflies at heart) will love this role.  Put them in front of the congregation to be the spokesperson for hospitality and teach the skills of welcome to everybody out in the pews/chairs.  Use them as the star of your social media hospitality campaign.

This is a natural approach to upgrading hospitality, and as I wrote earlier, it is applicable in congregations of 500 or 50.  It works in conjunction with other basic hospitality thought shifts that we’ll explore in future blogs, such as these:

  • We should be using the term “guests rather than “visitors,” because the attitudes that underlie those two terms can be critical in determining how we think about and treat the people who come through our doors.
  • What if we took the attitude of those guests being gifts sent by God, rather than a person just randomly walking through the door? What do they have to share that God has deemed right for us at this moment?  What are they needing at this moment that God has placed them in our orbit?  If we think of this interaction as divine, what possibilities does it open up?

Share your Connector stories and other challenges and opportunities that are presented by working with them.  Thanks for being our guest in the blog!  We love connecting you to all the possibilities and resources of the Excellence in Ministry / emc3coaching website!


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Young Christians are Leaving the Church – Here’s Why

By: J. Warner Wallace – September 9, 2018
 
A new, 2018 Pew Research Center Report polled a growing group in America: “religious nones.” This group describes themselves as “nothing in particular” when asked if they identify with a specific religious group. The vast majority are ex-Christians, and most are under the age of 35. Pew asked a representative sample of these “religious nones” why they now reject any religious affiliation and provided respondents with six possible responses.
 
According to the Pew report, most “religious nones” left because they “question a lot of religious teaching” (51 percent agreed with this statement), or because they “don’t like the positions churches take on social/political issues” (46 percent agreed with this statement). To a lesser extent, “nones” agreed with the statements, “I don’t like religious organizations” (34 percent), “I don’t like religious leaders” (31 percent), or “Religion is irrelevant to me” (26 percent). From this data, one might infer that Christians leave the faith because they no longer agree with the teaching of the Church or that they don’t like religious organizations or leaders.
 
But this is not why young Christians are leaving the church. One glaring statistic was largely overlooked in the latest data collected by the Pew Research Center. When religious “nones” were asked to identify the most important reason for not affiliating with a religion, the largest response was that none of the six responses provided by Pew were actually very important. In this poll, Pew did not allow respondents to answer in their own words. So, even though respondents searched for an answer that approximated their experience, most didn’t believe that any of the reasons offered by Pew were very important to them when deciding to abandon their religious identity.
 
What, then, is the real reason young Christians (and other religious believers) leave the faith? The answer lies in a prior, 2016 Pew Research Center survey which allowed respondents to answer in their own words. In this study, most “nones” said they no longer identified with a religious group because they no longer believed it was true. When asked why they didn’t believe, many said their views about God had “evolved” and some reported having a “crisis of faith.”
 
Their specific explanations included the following statements: “Learning about evolution when I went away to college” “Religion is the opiate of the people” “Rational thought makes religion go out the window” “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator” “I just realized somewhere along the line that I didn’t really believe it” “I’m doing a lot more learning, studying and kind of making decisions myself rather than listening to someone else.” The data from this 2016 study may explain why ex-Christians “question a lot of religious teaching,” as reported in the 2018 study.
 
The teaching they question seems to be about the existence of God, and this is consistent with the explanations offered by ex-Christians in a variety of other recent studies. When Christians walk away from the faith, more often than not, it’s due to some form of intellectual skepticism. Ex-Christians often describe religious beliefs as innately blind or unreasonable. But that doesn’t accurately reflect the rich, evidential history of Christianity. The psalmist appealed to the design and fine-tuning of the universe to demonstrate the existence of God (Psalm 19:1). Jesus appealed to both eyewitness testimony (John 16:8) and the indirect evidence of his miracles (John 10:38) to argue for the authority of his statements. The disciples identified themselves as eyewitnesses and appealed to their observations of the Resurrection to make the case for the Deity of Jesus (Acts 4:33). Ex-Christians often leave the Church because they don’t think anyone in the Church can answer their questions or make a case.
 
It’s time for believers to accept their responsibility to explain what Christianity proposes and why these propositions are true, especially when interacting with young people who have legitimate questions. Rather than embracing a blind or unreasonable faith, Christians must develop an informed, forensic faith that can stand up in the marketplace of ideas. We know why young Christians are leaving. Now it’s time to give them a reason to stay!
 
 

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Engaging Young Adults through Innovation

By Ebonie Johnson Cooper

August 29, 2018

Ebonie Johnson Cooper describes how involving young adults in an innovative process of ministry design can enhance their church participation. She outlines five pilot initiatives that are proving fruitful at Reid Temple AME Church in Maryland.
 
Contrary to popular belief, young adult Christians are not a monolithic group. We do not think alike. We do not worship God alike. And we do not see the church in the same way. Evidence of these statements is found in research conducted by several churches taking part in the Wesley Innovation Hub, an initiative funded by the Lilly Endowment that brings together diverse congregations to learn and practice ministry innovations that engage young adults using a design thinking methodology.

We should not place limits on how we reach young adults. The onus is on us to think outside the box and engage the next generation of Christian leaders in ways that encourage them to be the church and not just attend the church.

At Reid Temple AME, where I am a member, we employed focus groups, asset mapping, and in-depth interviews to discover issues that our young adults wanted to address. The team then created a number of prototype initiatives that are being tested over the next 12-15 months. While these initiatives are unique to the needs of the Reid Temple young adults, they can also be tested at other churches seeking to engage at a deeper level with their young adults.
 
  1. Creating safe spaces

We have learned that young adults want to feel safe at church. They want to be able to be transparent with leadership while also sensing a reciprocal feeling of authenticity from leadership. To test the concept of safe spaces, we are implementing life groups, which are small group gatherings of 8-10 young adults, meeting over the course of 6-8 weeks, led by fellow young adults. Not to be confused with Bible study groups, life groups use faith-based books, podcasts or thematic devotionals to guide organic conversations week to week. These intimate gatherings create safe spaces for young adults to begin to trust one another and the ministry that has been developed for them.

  1. Fostering community

Reid Temple has approximately 6,000 young adult members, across three campuses. As you might imagine, fostering a sense of community can be challenging. Instead of segmenting or limiting our young adults to programs at one campus or another, we will host programs that appeal to all young adults on neutral ground. One is a dialogue series on “adulting” as a young Christian. Many millennials use the popular term “adulting” to describe the hardships and nuances of traversing through the “real world.” Through our research, we found that Christian young adults are uniquely positioned to help one another navigate issues such as dating, marriage, finances and even parenting. Therefore, we plan to host a dialogue series to encourage conversation, support, and community among our young adults.

  1. Growing disciples through missional outreach

We recognize that as Christians we are called to be disciples and go beyond the walls of the church to minister. Our young adults have expressed their desire to be more involved with missional outreach. We plan to test a few community service projects that will demonstrate our love for Christ by helping others. These mission-driven projects will take form through partnerships and service with local nonprofits, as well as international organizations.

  1. Revamping young adult ministries

One of the most encouraging research findings we uncovered was the desire to remodel our young adult ministries at all campuses. The stereotype that millennials resist change has been largely debunked in the work of all the Wesley Innovation Hub churches. In fact, the young adults involved want change and are embracing innovative programs and ministries. Reid Temple will test the careful reconstruction of the young adult ministry leadership at Reid North and help to revamp the ministry at the Glenn Dale campus.

  1. Young adult leadership development

One area rarely celebrated about young adults is their desire to lead effectively. We found this to be true during our research, as many of our participants want to be active in leadership roles within ministries. Consequently, we decided to test the success of a leadership development series using existing young adult leaders as well as those who seek to be in leadership. By providing leadership development training, we hope to empower our young adults to fill more leadership roles and equip them to serve effectively.

The five areas we are testing at Reid Temple are just the beginning. The Wesley Innovation Hub has opened a door for us to walk with our young adults as never before in ways that uniquely meet their desires. I have learned not to put God in a box or limit God’s ability to be who God is. Similarly, we should not place limits on how we reach young adults, who are the future of the church, based on traditions and stereotypes. The onus is on us, today, to think outside the box and engage the next generation of Christian leaders in ways that encourage them to be the church and not just attend the church.

 About the Author
Ebonie Johnson Cooper is a student at Wesley Theological Seminary and a participant in Wesley’s Innovation Hub. She is the founder and executive director of the Young, Black & Giving Back Institute.
 
 
 

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5 Ways Female Leaders Undermine Themselves

By Susan Beaumont
August 8, 2018

 

Church consultant Susan Beaumont says that power accrues more easily to men than women in our culture, so women need to be especially savvy about how they use their power. She outlines five common ways that women can undermine themselves when it comes to using power.

We’ve all seen this happen: A woman suggests an idea or solution to a problem, only to have that idea totally ignored. Five minutes later a male counterpart suggests the same idea, and everyone lights up with enthusiasm and support. What’s going on?

Too often, female leaders undermine themselves when it comes to their use of power. These five common pitfalls are especially troublesome for women:

Power is value-neutral. It is simply the capacity for influence. Whether power is good or bad depends on the means we use to gain it, how we exercise it, and for what ends.

  1. Pretending power doesn’t matter

It would be lovely if ideas were the only thing that mattered, if every idea were considered on its own merit, regardless of the source. Female leaders seem particularly susceptible to the idea that a good idea should stand on its own, so we shouldn’t need to muddy a good idea with power tactics.

People of integrity often think that they want nothing to do with power, because power corrupts. Power is used by those in privilege to subjugate and control those without privilege. So we imagine we can get our leadership work done without the use of power.

John W. Gardner, founder of Common Cause and leadership advisor to presidents, defined power this way: “Power is the capacity to bring about certain intended consequences in the behavior of others.” Power is value-neutral; it is simply the capacity for influence. Whether power is good or bad depends on the means we use to gain it, how we exercise it, and for what ends.

Gardner also said, “To say a leader is preoccupied with power is like saying that a tennis player is preoccupied with making shots his opponent cannot return. Of course leaders are preoccupied with power!” Power matters when we try to get things done in service to our mission.

  1. Trying to influence before accruing power

No leader walks into an organization brimming with all the power needed. Ineffective leaders often try to enact change or sell an idea before they have adequately deepened their influence reservoir. Effective leaders build their capacity for influence before they try to use it. Like a reservoir filled from three spigots, a leader accrues power from three primary sources:

  • Power is granted.A legitimate outside source declares us worthy to lead. An education degree, an ordination license, a certification, an endorsement by the Bishop. All are forms of granted power that assign influence and gravitas. Sometimes women need to be more proactive about pursuing such endorsements.
  • Power is assigned.We are given certain authority in decision-making and certain access to resources by the roles we occupy. Effective leaders are proactive about gaining access to information, resources, and decision-making. Where am I being excluded? Why? How can I position myself for better access?
  • Power is earned.We earn power by demonstrating expertise over time. We earn power by deepening the trust of others. We earn power by charming others with charisma.

To influence effectively, leaders must accrue a combination of granted, assigned, and earned power. If your ideas aren’t getting traction in your organization, revisit each of these power sources to see if your reservoir is filling from all three spigots.

  1. Promoting collaboration at the expense of your own power

Collaborative leaders help others accrue power. But if sharing power with others reduces your own influence or diminishes your leadership role, you are going about it all wrong. Power sharing is not a zero-sum game. When power is shared well, everyone’s influence capacity grows. Conversely, when a leader tries to empower others by abdicating her own authority, everyone’s influence suffers.

  1. Taking resistance personally

A leader’s efforts to influence effectively produce commitment among followers. When something hasn’t gone right in the influence equation, the leader may instead experience mere compliance or even resistance. Compliance means that people are going along with you grudgingly but aren’t fully committed to your ideas. Resistance means that they are actively or passively refusing to comply with your request for action.

A good leader knows to honor resistance for what it is — data to learn from. If my influence efforts are ineffective, it means something in the influence equation isn’t working right and needs adjustment. Perhaps I didn’t have enough power to act in the first place. Perhaps I chose an influence tactic, like logical persuasion, that wasn’t right for the situation. Perhaps others have been actively trying to undermine my authority. Resistance is an invitation to reevaluate and adapt.

A leader who chooses to take resistance personally diminishes her own power base. Instead of reflecting and learning, she gets sidetracked by worrying about whether people like her. Reactiveness prevents her from renewing her pursuit of influence by other means.

  1. Failing to address the inappropriate influence attempts of others

For some time, Laura has been aware of problematic behavior of her board chair. Harvey agrees with Laura in board meetings and in one-on-one exchanges. But behind the scenes, he gossips and complains to others about Laura’s choices and ideas. Laura ignores Harvey’s behavior in the hope that others will ignore him too. She doubles down on other influence tactics like emotional appeals to the people who listen to Harvey. In the end, Harvey’s undermining efforts turn most of the board leaders against Laura.

Can a leader simply ignore the bad behavior of others? Yes, but only if those behaving badly have much less power than the leader. If the problem player holds more power — whether granted, assigned, or earned — then ignoring the behavior undermines the leader’s influence.

Female leaders walk a fine line with respect to power and influence. If we ignore power dynamics, we are dismissed as ineffective leaders. If we appear to enjoy our power, we are negatively labelled. But our job as leaders is to use our power in service to mission, not to naively give it away. Avoiding these five influence traps will help you lead with greater authority and gain commitment to your ideas.


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