I continue to offer this simple phrase, the motto of the Theological School of Drew University, as my personal mission statement. As a person called by God and ordained an elder in The United Methodist Church, I am privileged to employ my gifts among the Methodists of Nashville, North Carolina.
I have been reviewing several texts from my library over the last few weeks. The concise words of Albert Outler in Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit (1996) have been especially informative. His 1971 Denman Lectures in Evangelism, which constitute the first portion of this book, are as apt a description of the church and our cultural milieu as any contemporary work (even post-September11, 2001). As we stand literally poised to build a 14,500 square foot – if can you call that an “addition” – and renovate another 16,000 square feet, I think we need to pause for a moment’s breath.
Once again, our lay leadership team comes to you offering a simpler slate of officers – a chance for God to breath fresh air into our predictability. This model of nurture, outreach, and witness setting the tempo for our life rather than finances and building policies will continue to be a struggle. Albert Outler noted that the church’s task is always three-fold (see pp. 65-66): (1) announcing the coming of Christ (see Mark 16:15 – go therefore into all of the world and preach (herald) the gospel to every creature), (2) witnessing by our actions and words to God’s love (see Acts 1:8 – you shall (must) be my martyrs (witnesses) – in Jerusalem and in all Judeo and away to the ends of the earth), and (3) live as servants together (see John 13 – If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example; you are to do as I have done for you). This is probably the best scriptural grounding for the nurture, outreach, and witness model of ministry. The problem for Outler’s church and our own is that nurturing one another is often as far as we are willing to go in responding to God. Living as servants of the living God is difficult and yet Rich Mullins reminds us that “faith without works is a song you can’t sing … its about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”
Another breath that I am seeking in this moment is the Spirit’s breath. That breath comes when we ask not what are we doing, but rather ponder what is God doing and how can we become part of that movement. For me the moment of the Spirit’s renewal came as I reread the gospel account of the bent-over woman that Jesus heals on the Sabbath … in the synagogue … with everybody watching … and dares to call a “daughter of Abraham” … (see Luke 13:10-17). Jesus reminded me that I am called to preach good news – news that says that bent-over folk can stand stall when healing comes and we call them by their name – sons and daughters of Abraham, brother and sister of Christ, children of God. I find myself needing to revamp what I am doing in ministry and so I asked our District Superintendent Charles M. Smith if I could start my six-year tenure now, as we break ground for the future.
Within the Methodist connection I continue in service on the Conference Commission on Congregational Development. I also host a group of probationary members of our annual conference in the Residency In Ordained Ministry program. The past year’s journey with the company of fresh-thinking sisters and brothers in the Reynolds program in church leadership will bear continuing fruit in ministry.
I cannot finish without saying a word of gratitude to Scott Smallwood, Cindy Pike, and now Tom Parker. They keep my humble with their comments and with their willingness to serve Christ in this place. For Denise Calloway and Debbie Pridgen I give thanks as they have forged a stronger day care ministry in this place. To Becky Lockwood and Tara Williams, partners in crime in our church office, I give thanks. Their work in moving us across the street to the Cockrell House is a work of wonder. To their names, I add the great blessing I receive from retired colleagues Lester and Henrietta Jackson and Sidney and Katherine Boone. I give God thanks for Cindy, Ann and William – they are God’s breath of fresh air every day of my life. Finally, I am truly blessed to live and work among the saints and sinners of Nashville United Methodist Church and the community we serve.