Monday, August 29, 2011

Raising the Dead, Waking the Sleepers

by Heather Kramer

In the closing worship of Sing a New Song, we heard from General Secretary of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, M. Garlinda Burton, about the future of the church, the deceptions we have believed, and the hope we find in Christ's promise of the renewal of the church. In Matthew we hear the story of Jesus breathing new life into the dying daughter of the synagogue leader. Jesus walks into the room, sweeps away the mourners, and takes the little girl by the hand, saying "she is not dead, but sleeping!" She gets up, and the story of Jesus' power spreads.

Some people argue that our church is dying, if she isn't dead already. We're wearing the mourning clothes, singing the mourning songs, waiting for the final death knell. She is sleeping, maybe dying. We've left Wesley's example of on-the-ground, with-the-people ministry and locked ourselves away in ivory tombs- sorry, towers- of holiness. We sing mourning songs of nostalgia rather than new songs of the power of the Holy Spirit and await our final demise.

But Jesus is waiting to sweep into the room, shoo out the mourners, and wake our sleeping church. He invites us to put off our mourning clothes and take up the task of healing and rebuilding, to sing new songs of life and love that are offered to all. We are all children of God, we are all the church, and we are all a part of God's divine plan for the reconciling of the world.

Our church may be dying. She may be asleep. But she can throw off her burial shroud, we can throw off our mourning sackcloth, and she can rise. She can spread the power and the story of a healing, renewing, and loving Christ, and she can change the world.


Heather Kramer is a second year Masters of Divinity and Masters of Theological Studies student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC., where she is also the youth minister at Dumbarton United Methodist Church and an intern at the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). In her free time (ha!) she tries to read, work for justice, and blogs at The Story I Find Myself In.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Spirit of Transformation

I must admit, I came to Sing a New Song with some mixed emotions. Less than a month ago I left the staff of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) to prepare for seminary, which I will begin next week at the Boston University School of Theology. I wondered if it was too soon for me to return to “work,” whether it would be hard for me to watch others carry the torch as I stepped back for a bit. After all, I wanted to take some time to discern how I would carry my recent experiences in social justice ministry to seminary and beyond.

While laying low, I attended a workshop on environmental racism, hearing afresh the staggering inequalities in access to clean and safe living spaces, while learning how churches can facilitate local grassroots efforts to improve lives. Later I caught up with Susanna McKibben who gave a session entitled, “Immigration: Rhetoric and Realities.” Susanna also guided the OnFire delegation in an immersion trip to the Arizona-Mexico border, not long before the passage of SB1070. I also participated in a phone bank to make preliminary contacts to General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates to ask for their support in ending the harm to gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender persons (five calls made!), and I pledged to meet with at least one delegate to General Conference before next April.

Sitting near the back of worship one morning, a dear mentor leaned over to me and asked, “well, Jennifer, did you ever think you’d be sitting here when you arrived back from Germany [in 2008]?” “Nope,” I replied, as I returned my gaze to a room filled with color and song. And it hits me: I have been transformed. The music, the people, the travel, the education, the organizing, the relationships, the phone calls. I have never decided how the Spirit moves. I do not determine the “right time” to engage. I am not the one who carries the ministry of justice, but rather I am carried by a movement of people who are responding to a lifelong, ever-present call to being and doing church. I can’t wait to see where the Spirit carries us next.

Jennifer Mihok will soon be a first year MDiv student at the Boston University School of Theology and is seeking candidacy in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. Before joining the staff of MFSA in 2009, Jennifer served a United Methodist congregation in Genthin, Germany as a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What is "hi" in the middle and round on both ends?
Greetings from the Buckeye State where several hundred progressive United Methodists have gathered to worship, fellowship and organize to make the UMC a better place for all of God's people.
Today I had the lovely privilege of co-leading a workshop about ways people can create safe spaces in their local congregations and communities as a response to bullying. The workshop included information about human development theory and counseling best practices. Together, my co-leader, Josh Noblitt, and I facilitated discussion among more than 30 concerned leaders about how they can shift their communities to be safer spaces for queer folk, migrant families, differently abled and others who are marginalized by our church and society. Those of us gathered shared our personal stories of times we felt unwelcomed or bullied, times of hope for the future of our church, and methods we have used to create safe spaces in the church. The conversations left the workshop space and continued into the hallways, lunch tables and afternoon affinity groups.
As the first day of Sing A New Song 2011, today has been a busy and productive day. We are learning, planning, and preparing to share our witness between now and the end of General Conference 2012, growing together as a community and moving our church to being fully inclusive of all God's people.


I really wanted to make this blog post one line long... because all I can think right now is, "THANK GOD for family." I live all year-round in the progressive haven of Berkeley, and it still surprises me that when I get together with folks from OnFire and MOSAIC I feel like I'm back in a home I didn't even notice I was desperately missing.

At the Young Adult forum at Sing A New Song, we talked about the hopes we have for the future of the church, and how we use biblical stories to sustain us in that work. To be honest, I had a hard time answering that question. I realized that I have so little that sustains me in my work changing the church.

I think we underestimate the need for close, like-minded, deep and abiding friendships. At the Wesley Seminary graduation this May, Kenda Creasy Dean talked about the huge number of protestant clergy in the United States who say that they do not have even one close friend. Religious leadership can be a lonely road. But after the opening worship service this evening, as I watched folks run into the open arms of friends and loved ones they hadn't seen in far too long, as I watched the smiles on the faces of new friends, as I watched groups of people disperse and dive into conversation and laughter, I could feel hope growing in our midst. It dawned on me that I couldn't possibly have a chance at doing this work without these folks. God sent the disciples out in twos for a reason: we were never meant to go this road alone.

I wish that all of you who are reading this post could be here with us in Ohio. I wish you could have heard Jennifer Battiest Neal preach this evening about righteous anger at the church and about forgiveness. I wish you could have talked about the biblical narrative of Rahab and our hopes for the church with Eric Burton-Krieger and Brad Corban this morning. But most of all, I wish for all of you the sense of family I get when I'm at gatherings like this. How can we possibly expect to go on about our prophetic work without this kind of support? So get on the phone. Write a letter. Make a connection. Reach out. I promise, you can't do this work without family... and we're all here with open arms!!


Jamie Michaels is a third-year seminary student at Pacific School of Religion, a candidate for ordination in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, a self-proclaimed Methodist super-nerd, and a passionate justice-seeker.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Singing a New Song

For those of you who are not with us at Sing a New Song, or for folks just interested in different people's experiences at SANS, stay tuned with us here on the blog for updates and follow us on twitter @UMOnFire. This is an exciting time for us as United Methodists as we build coalitions and mobilize to make our church and our world a more just place for all of God's children.

For more information on how you can follow from home, head on over to the MFSA blog!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nuestro pan de cada día

by Mallory Naake
This piece was originally published in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps magazine Koinonia. You can read more about Mallory's adventures on her blog, Mallory in Peru.

Food is an essential part of our daily lives. Much of our time is spent harvesting, preparing, eating, disposing of, and talking about food. Every culture has it's specialties that they can be proud of and I feel so lucky to be enjoying the rich cuisine of Perú every day.

At the same time (as I'm sure other international Jesuit Volunteers [JV] can attest to) our community spends a lot of time discussing the food we miss from home. It doesn't help that Mateo (fellow community-mate and teacher of English) and I have been teaching our students about "gringo" food for the past few weeks. After seeing our 70 minute long presentation about the tasty food we eat in the states, I always leave with a longing hunger for the food comforts of home.

But what is important about the food we eat daily? How do we proceed to eat? What are we saying in the Lord's Prayer when we ask God to "give us this day our daily bread"? In our food presentation to the students, we talk about American´s unhealthy habits in regards to fast food and soda that lead to obesity and health problems. Much of my eating time at home was spent scarfing down food in order to move on to my next activity; eating time was less and less spent with friends and family around the table.

And where does our food come from? In the states we have strong feelings about organic food, vegetarianism, how chickens are humanely kept and killed, etcetera. Here in Andahuaylillas my view of the role of food – how I eat, where food comes from, and what is necessary - has been changed by my wasi masis (Quechua for neighbors).

Sharing meals together is an important part of life as a JV in Perú. Our community eats together regularly. Many of our interactions and spaces for sharing with our neighbors takes place around a table. In Perú the biggest meal of the day is lunch which usually includes soup and main course. People take their time savoring the cuisine and enjoying each other. Home cooked meals are something to be proud of and shared.

We also have the joy of sharing every weekday lunch with around 350 kids from Andahuaylillas. Sam (community-mate) runs the parish comedor for kids whose families cannot afford to feed their children abundant lunches. Those families pay only 5 soles (about $1.80) a month for their kids to eat. They can also pay in produce or in labor preparing the food. The comedor is supplemented by entrance fees to our church here in Andahuaylillas; Iglesia de San Pedro – also known as the Sistine Chapel of the Americas.

We have the great fortune here that our community dinners are supplemented by leftovers from the comedor. We buy the rest of our food at the market in a neighboring town or from the greenhouse on the campus of our school. It's amazing! During or after school, we can walk back to the greenhouse operated by the parent (Marco) of two of our students and literally pull our dinner out of the ground. It´s fresh and delicious without any chemicals…and it`s great to support our wasi masi.

Additionally, we have been supplying scraps and leftover food to another student's family for their pig. They're planning to slaughter the pig in the next few weeks (which is huge now) and we've been invited to partake. It feels right share in the cycle of raising, feeding, and eventually using the animals for sustenance.

In Perú food is an important and dominant part of everyone's lives. We all participate from the process of growing to the time of sharing meals together. Nothing comes in plastic. Hardly anything is wasted. God has blessed us with our needed daily bread without the unnecessary excess we're so used to in the states.

So the next time you drop by a super market I challenge you to think about where your food comes from and what you are putting in your body. And when you return home, take the time to share in the preparation and consumption of that precious gift for which we so often forget to give thanks for.


Mallory Naake is a young United Methodist from Sacramento, California. She was involved with the Sierra Service Project for twelve years, and was the Youth Director for the FUMC Loomis for three years. She was part of the OnFire Borderlinks delegation in 2009, which you can read about here. Mallory is currently serving as a volunteer for two years with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Cusco, Peru. She blogs at Mallory in Peru.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Way to the Coffee

by Jennifer Mihok
Crossposted at the MFSA Blog

After two and a half years on the staff of MFSA, I am in the midst of a move from DC to Boston, where I will begin seminary this fall. For the past few weeks I’ve spent a significant portion of my time sorting through boxes and files—at my house in DC, at the MFSA office, and now at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. A few days ago I was going through stacks of cards and letters that I had collected while living in Germany, and I came across a folded piece of white paper with colorful letters in child’s handwriting: “Jennifer, Hier geht’s zum Kaffeetrinken” (this way to the coffee).

The story behind this simple invitation is an important one for me. While serving as a mission intern prior to coming to MFSA, I had lived on the sixth floor (no elevator) of a Soviet block style apartment building in Genthin, a former East German “city.” It must have seemed strange to the neighbors when a US-American showed up to spend a year and a half in this hole in the wall of a town, or, to use the German expression for such places, “where the dog’s buried.” Explaining that I was there with the church didn’t make it any easier, as only about 10% of Getnthin’s population had retained or reinitiated any religious affiliation—let alone Methodist—after forty years of socialist rule.

My first encounter with any neighbors in the “block” came a few weeks after I moved in. I had been parking my bike in the only cellar I had a key to, which apparently was not the bike cellar, but the stroller cellar. The first person to speak to me was a woman who gruffly accosted me about parking my bike where her grandchildren’s playthings were. Only half understanding the “Ossie” (eastern) accent I wasn’t yet used to, I went away feeling less than “Willkommen.”

A few weeks later, a storm passed through Genthin leaving beautiful rainbows in its path. I took as many pictures as I could from my apartment window and then rushed downstairs to get some from a better angle. The same woman who had scolded me was leaning out of her second story window in the building next door. She watched me for a while and then in the same gruff voice, called down, “schön, nicht wahr? (beautiful, isn’t it?)” She began chatting away, making comments about my digital camera, suggesting where I might get a better view, explaining that her daughter and grandchildren lived in my building and her mother up the street—all still in that same, curt intonation that my senses hadn’t quite adjusted to.

The next day, I printed some copies of the rainbow pictures and left them in her mailbox. When I ran into her sometime later, her demeanor seemed to have softened. She thanked me repeatedly and whole-heartedly for the pictures and invited me to afternoon coffee at her daughter’s apartment—on the second floor of my building. The whole family would be there; all I had to do was show up at three. Despite the more welcoming encounter, I found myself quite nervous on the day of, and over little things, too. What if I didn’t understand them well enough? What if I mispronounced something? Which second-floor apartment was it anyway? What if I rang the wrong bell?

But when I got down to the second floor, I saw this sheet of paper in Jessica’s (the granddaughter’s) handwriting: “Jennifer, Hier geht’s zum Kaffeetrinken.” A personal pathfinder, just for me, just when I needed it. I remember smiling and breathing a sigh of relief as I rang the bell.

That afternoon led to many more occasions of “Kaffeetrinken” over the next few years, including visits made on return trips to Genthin after I began work in DC. When I came across that paper this week, I thought of the many times that people at MFSA and RMN have left pathfinders for me, including personal invitations to attend events like Sing a New Song. We all have a general idea of where we’re going—to a justice-filled and inclusive United Methodist Church. But getting there isn’t easy. We might be put off at first by personalities we don’t quite understand, or confused by the legalism and politicking that often goes into setting church policies. And yes, sometimes it’s as small as worrying about getting the right room number for the Reconciling Sunday School class. (In my personal experience, rainbows come in handy.) I’m looking forward to Sing a New Song for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of its ability to help us find our way together to a new and brighter future for the church that we love.

I hope to see you there, and if you’re wondering where to find me—it will probably be by the coffee. I’ll be sure to make some colorful signs to the MFSA hospitality suite—just for you!

Grace and Peace,

Jen Mihok

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

From the WSCF: Students on an Encounter for Solidarity and Justice

Greetings OnFire! We try to put up as many opportunities and events as we can on this blog, which you can follow on our new Events/Opportunities page. Here is another opportunity from the World Student Christian Federation.

The North American and Latin American & Caribbean Regions of the World Student Christian Federation are planning a joint program to be held in Cuba on November 18-25, 2011. The North American Region will select 5 students to attend the program. Deadline for applying is August 30th, 2011. This event will be an opportunity for the two regions to work on a common advocacy and solidarity agenda as part of a global strategy.

Selection criteria will include level of commitment on advocacy and solidarity and ongoing involvement in SCM/WSCF work in the region and the wider ecumenical movement. Concept paper and application form are attached.

Please send filled application form to both Luciano Kovacs at and to Hierald E. Kane-Osorto at

World Student Christian Federation
Latin American and Caribbean & North American Regions
Intercultural Exchange Program and Cultural Trip
Havana, Cuba, November 18-25 2011
“Students on an Encounter for Solidarity and Justice:
Celebrating 50 Years of SCM Cuba”

This bi-regional encounter will provide an opportunity for students to discern collectively two of the themes that the WSCF chose for the 2008-2012 quadrennium at its last General Assembly, Climate Justice and Economic Justice. During this conference, students will have an opportunity to analyze structural causes of injustice and develop an understanding of how these are linked to the paradigm of violence that humanity and the earth are currently experiencing.

In addition, the encounter will serve as an opportunity to explore key themes lived out through Christian leaders such as Rev. Lucius Walker, who promoted an important solidarity movement between Cuba, the U.S., and the rest of the world.

This encounter is part of a need and desire to create places of dialogue between students from North America, Latin America and the Caribbean based on their cultural, historical, and social exchanges that accompany every region and country in our hemisphere.

This encounter is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the two regions and to find common strategies of work aimed at addressing the current realities impacting communities on both sides of the border and at developing a common vision for the two regions.

The major objective of this event, together with its leadership training component, will be the formation of a common bi-regional agenda based on discussions, analysis, political and theological reflections and the drafting of a strategic plan to fit the wider advocacy and solidarity work of the WSCF.