Monday, April 30, 2012

What does God require of UMC?

by Young Dong (Steve) Kim

In the morning April 25, I listened to amazing addresses by clergy, laity, and young adults. Hearing an episcopal address, when bishop Peter Weaver mentioned the first Discipline of Methodist Episcopal Church 1912, I was surprised to see the size of the book because the current Book of Discipline of 2008 seemed extremely huge. I thought to myself, perhaps an enlargement of the size of the book depicts the development of the UMC. However, I questioned myself if such enlargement of the Book of Discipline does reflect any improvements of the UMC; I questioned this because of two reasons: on the one hand, how can one explain a declining membership of the UMC in U.S if UMC is in its advanced form as the large volume of the Book of Discipline suggests? On the other hand, if UMC claims to be the Global Church, how can one explain a vast amount of rules and regulations that focuses the U.S?

"If it's to be, it's up to me." This powerful statement was spoken by one of the three lay speakers who were very passionate and faithful United Methodists. One of the three speakers also delivered a strong message of change, "Unless we don’t change, the world will not change." Here, I asked myself, ‘What can UMC do to change the world?’ I stepped back and thought about an inception of UMC. In 1968, the Methodist and the Evangelical United Brethren came together to form the United Methodist Church. And since then, the UMC played a major role in five cultural currents: the current of liberation, inclusion, autonomy, participation, and globalization (Yrigoyen et al, 10-13). I have realized that these five currents are still at work in the General Conference 2012. Here, I personally think that UMC is still struggling in some of these cultural currents; for example, an issue of homosexuality in ordination, marriage, status, etc within UMC disrupts the current of liberation, inclusion, and participation. Furthermore, it seems that UMC disturbs the current of globalization because its polity does not reflect churches outside of the U.S.

"We are changed! Rooted! and United!" Two young adult speakers spoke boldly and passionately about the significance of young adult leadership in UMC. When one of the young speakers spoke, "Life is not about what you want to be, but about what others want of you," strongly encouraged/challenged me "to do justice, to do kindness, to do God’s work," for others in response to what Jesus said, "love your neighbors!" Does UMC truly love our neighbors? Does UMC being in the cloud of witnesses? I prayed with hope that UMC does.


Young Dong (Steve) Kim, 2nd year at Drew Theological School and an intern at United Methodist Campus Ministry at Drew University called, Drew On Fire.

Love Your Neighbor Worship

Missed the amazing Love Your Neighbor worship yesterday? Do yourself a favor and watch it here:


Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Anti-Woman Church

by Jamie Michaels

From Love Your Neighbor News: The Official Publication of the Common Witness Coalition.

I have always longed to be a mother; it is the thing I haveknown longest about myself. As a 16-year old, I was alone in my peer group inmy desire to bear children. Now, 10 years later, I can hardly bear to wait anylonger to start my own family. And I have every intention of raising mychildren in the United Methodist church, a church I expect to love all childrenunconditionally, even when the world wishes to do them harm. I expect thechurch to be a place of respite, of protection and care for them.

While women have made great strides, our world today isstill a dangerous place to be for women. Women and children are disproportionatelyrepresented among new cases of HIV/AIDS. A lack of gender parity in pay acrossthe globe leaves women to make difficult choices in feeding and caring fortheir families. And here in the United States, recent legislation about women’sreproductive rights, public debate about which has been dominated by malevoices, has threatened the health and safety of women. There is a War on Women,and the church should be standing on the side of women’s health.

However, this General Conference’s attitude and actionstoward women over the last several days calls into question our commitment tothe health and wellbeing of women. On day 5 of General Conference, we had yetto see a woman bishop presiding on the plenary floor [day six, we did have one]. In the committee onSuperintendency, language referring to bishops has been overwhelmingly male.And yesterday morning in subcommittee, Church and Society B voted to remove theUMC from a moderate, well-respected, ecumenical and interreligious group: theReligious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). The RCRC, founded in theUnited Methodist building on Capitol Hill in 1973 after the watershed SupremeCourt case Roe V. Wade, has always existed to advocate for women’s rights tomake choices that are good for their bodies, good for their lives, and mostimportantly, choices that are safe. The removal of the UMC from this coalition representsnothing short of an attack on women’s health.

I have long since resigned myself to remain in this (often)anti-gay church. I don’t know if I can remain in a church that is anti-woman. Icertainly do not feel comfortable raising children in a church that may notadvocate for their health and wellbeing. Whether we will continue down thispath in the plenary remains to be seen. Will we unite as God’s church to liveup to Jesus’ call to stand for the most vulnerable in our world? Will we liftup in our policies what we often give lip service to in our words andliturgies: that we value the life, health, and contributions of women equallyto men? Or will the church join the global War on Women, alienating me, myfamily, and women everywhere? Will the church become anti-woman?


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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Learning Solidarity

by Katie Wineland

Thursday night was a powerful night of solidarity for the Common Witness Coalition. First, during plenary session, Mark Miller--one of the most gifted worship leaders in The United Methodist Church-- took a point of privilege on the floor of the plenary to express the brokenness and hurt he has felt as an openly gay man taking part in some of the conversations around human sexuality at General Conference. Before he was ruled out of order, he invited LGBTQA individuals to stand with him in plenary hall, and coalition members and others stood in solidarity with Mark within and beyond the bar.
After plenary and closing worship, the Common Witness Coalition held a silent demonstration at the doors of plenary hall. Hundreds of us, wearing rainbow stoles, joined hands and formed a silent—silenced—tunnel at both exits. Delegates and bishops, church members and visitors walked by us as they left the hall for the evening; some ignored us, but many also spoke words of blessing and words of prayer. A few people hugged and prayed over each of us, and many joined hands and stood with us. Once everyone had left the hall, we broke our silence with a song— “we are all your sons and daughters, and we are singing, singing for our lives.”

As we joined in the Tabernacle for worship and conversation following the demonstration, around my table we discussed what it really means to be in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Many of us were keenly aware that the silence of the demonstration eliminated any distinction between LGBTQ individuals and allies. Each of us who stood in the line truly stood in solidarity-- a radical posture of being with-- indistinguishable from the LGBTQ community. With this vulnerable posture of solidarity comes risk, especially for those of us seeking ordination in this church, and I was keenly aware of that as every bishop of The United Methodist Church walked past us. But I also had hope as some bishops joined us, standing in solidarity and entering into the silence. To be sure, there is risk involved in action, but the greatest risk is inaction and complicity to injustice and exclusion in the body of Christ.


Katie Wineland is a rising senior at Bluffton University in Bluffton, Ohio studying Biblical Studies, Peace & Conflict Studies, and Mediation. She is seeking ordination as a deacon in West Ohio Conference, where she is also a Certified Lay Missioner in Hispanic Ministry and a six-time lay delegate to Annual Conference.

Friday, April 27, 2012

On Ugliness

Today'scommittee work as been rough for me. So it isn't as nasty perhaps assome committees can be, but it is certainly not a pretty picture ofthe church. I fought back tears at the committee vote againststriking language penalizing clergy who bless same-sex marriages. Thecommittee was not affirming language, it was simply removingunnecessarily negative language. And that has been the entire day.

Granted,subcommittee and committee work are interesting in that plenary cancompletely ignore all the work and conversation that went into it.So, perhaps, there is still hope. But I have been rather frustratedbecause I do not have a voice as a visitor to conference, so myoutlook is not so cheery.

See,I had to sit and listen to debate over a footnote to paragraph 311.2dthat repeats our embarrassing Social Principals assertion thathomosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Some arguedthat no one ought to be alarmed at the removal of the footnotebecause a footnote has no legal teeth. One delegate cautioned,though, that the only reason for getting rid of the footnote is tomove towards support of homosexuality. Gasp! No. Getting rid of thefootnote does two things: 1. it cuts down on the bulkiness of theDiscipline, and 2. it cuts out something that was only added to bemean and hateful.

Idid smile a little when another delegate suggested that we add all ofthe Social Principals as a footnote if we liked them so much, but hewas kidding. I still think he should have made that the amendment.

Iam a preacher's kid, I have been a lay delegate to Annual Conferencefor four years now: I have seen the church ugly. But it still hurts.It hurts that we cannot even take out unnecessary condemning andpunitive language--- I am not asking for affirmative language (rightnow), just an end to explicitly hateful language that has no purposeother than to remind us that we are a church more interested inmaintaining the status quo than we are in Jesus' message of lovingour neighbor.

Iam reminded of last night about singing that we are a gentle angrypeople. Unfortunately, I don't feel too gentle right now. I needsomeone or something to remind me, as Bishop James King did Wednesdaynight in his sermon, as those involved in the witness last night,that we are beautiful people capable of beautiful things. 


Shannon Sullivan will be graduating from Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey, in May, and will serve a two-point charge in the Baltimore-Washington Conference starting in July. She is also a member of the OnFire leadership team. She blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today. 

Standing with Mark Miller

Are you live streaming General Conference?

Today was a powerful witness on the floor of General Conference, led by Mark Miller (and followed by another powerful witness in solidarity). More photos and information to come, but if you missed it, check out the youtube video of the plenary and worship. Mark begins speaking at 51:15.

Praise God for our courageous leaders.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


by Melissa Zimmerman

This is an excerpt of Melissa's General Conference blog from April 25. 

...As dinner approached, I was invited to bring my dinner and eat with a particular organization. Because it doesn’t really matter what this organization was, I will refer to it as UMO. Realize that this organization could be yours. It could be UMW, UMM, UMYF, a group of Sunday School teachers, a particular United Methodist Church, a caucus group, or more. You may be able to figure out which group it is based on some of the things I say, but it doesn’t really matter. As you read my story insert whatever church group you belong to, especially if it has very few young people and wants them.

So, I was invited to dinner. I thought, “well, why not,” and I went to join them. The person speaking to them was the president of UMO. After she spoke, another woman spoke. This woman started to speak about how important it is that the young people stay involved in UMO. The sharks were circling. Then, looking straight at me (there were probably 8 people eating lunch down here and I was the only young stranger) she starts talking to me about how important it is to stay involved in UMO. Then the sharks started to bump up against me a bit. She asks me if I am involved in UMO. I say that I am not, and I explain that when I was at home, most UMO events met during the day on a weekday. In recent years, they have started to reach out to young people, but I am now in a different state at Seminary. In an effort to salvage myself a little, I explain that my sister and godson’s mom are both getting involved in UMO. Then, the sharks swam in and started to attack. “You know all pastors become members of UMO when they are ordained.” “You can have a group at seminary.” “It doesn’t take a formal group with a President to have a UMO group, you just need to do fellowship.” “You know, I have read so many books through our reading program that I never would have read before. It is so easy to use. Here is where it is in your church and how it works.” And on and on. They do a lot of great things, but very little is something I need or want at this point in my life. Finally, as I sit there wondering why on earth I would want to add a reading list of church books when I am already in school, I decide to voice this. I interrupt and explain that the books aren’t really interesting, since I am in school. Really, it is the mission aspects of UMO that are appealing. They then asked if I had ever attended their mission retreat, explained that often churches will help those who cannot pay for it to get the money, and that it has a ton of wonderful aspects. Finally, the conversation shifted away from me and we were told that UMO will meet to eat every lunch and dinner and have an evening prayer at the end of each day. I have not yet decided if I will go back. 1) It is rather scary to be attacked by sharks wanting my flesh…I mean wanting my participation in a group. It might be effective in driving me away. BUT 2) I have a strong urge to go back a few times so that I gain their trust enough to tell them how bad that introduction was. They had the best of intentions. They genuinely wanted me to get involved, get the connections and to benefit from what they have to offer. This inundating me with information and not listening to what I am interested in, however was not the way to do it. The scary part is that I have done this also. Honestly, if this is how we approach young people for organizations within the church, I worry about how we approach those outside the church. EEK!!

We should take this as a lesson! Listen before inundating with activities! This does not mean ignoring or not inviting them to something. It does mean slowing down, giving a couple ideas and asking if anything sounds interesting without pressure. I want to hear their stories! I want to know why this is important to them! I just don’t want to hear it all at once, and I want to hear why this should be important to me. A 24-year-old student who reads plenty of books and has plenty of friends for fellowship. Why should I join the UMO? For that matter, why should a 24-year-old grad student with plenty of friends who is already a member of a social club join a church? What do we have to offer? Why does this make a difference? Until we answer these questions AND act on them, not on what we think is interesting about the social opportunities, we cannot expect to see change.

Now let me be clear. I love the people in this organization and others. It is a great and important organization that does a lot of great work for our church. It was just a little frightening to experience exactly the same thing that is happening to every young person who walks in the doors of an older congregation...


Melissa Zimmerman is a student at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, who is working through the process toward ordination as an elder in the Indiana Conference. She loves reading, Dr. Who, and anything related to the furthering of the church's mission (even sitting in 10 day meetings!!) Her full blog can be found at Traveler 21.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Charged. Rooted. United.

I workeveryday with children and youth. Usually, when they ask me how old I am andlearn that I am ‘already 24!’ I am automatically ‘old.’ And yes, from a child’sperspective, I am old. Especially when many of the children with whom I work haveparents just years older than myself.

Steppingbeyond my daily work environment where I am ‘old,’ it is quite different to behere at General Conference, where one of my main ‘identities’ is linked withbeing ‘young’ and being a ‘young adult.’ Looking at the faces of the delegates,the volunteers, the agency staff, the marshals, the pages and the pressgathered here in Tampa, I am young. We, the young people, are underrepresentedas part of the global church gathered here.

Thismorning during our plenary session, two young adults addressed the body. KrinAli, from the United States, presented to us in person. Joy Eva Algodon-Bohol,from the Philippines, was denied her visa to the United States and thereforespoke to us via video feed.  Sharingstories of youth and young adult ministry across the world, the address focusedon our role as young adults in being: Charged. Rooted. United.

Charged inour faith and as prophets and messengers, rooted in our tradition and in the church,we, the young people of the United Methodist Church, are united across theworld despite our ethnic, cultural, identity, and theological differences.

But, whereare the young people? 

Will thechurch exist in twenty years?

I did notgrow up a United Methodist. I joined the United Methodist Church in 2008 afterbecoming active in the campus ministry at American University during my studiesthere. If not for the existence, empowerment and space for questioning andtheological discernment of campus ministry, I would not be a United Methodist.I would not be a United Methodist Young Adult Missionary. I would not be hereat General Conference working as a Young Adult Legislative Coordinator. I wouldnot be here in Tampa without the spiritual, prayerful, and financial support ofmy congregation and United Methodists around the world.

As regionalyouth funding is cut, as annual conferences reduce campus ministry funding andcut campus minister positions, and as national youth funding and representationremains a small portion of the church budget, I cannot speak to the future ofthe church with hope.

Youngpeople need the church just like the church needs young people. And yet, weremain underrepresented. Without the proportional presence of young people inthe decision making of our church body, inequity remains within the church. Althoughmany delegates support the inclusion of young people as delegates to GeneralConference, older delegates who have served multiple times to GeneralConference are once again here – their seats remained filled and young peoplecannot fill the seats and be present here as delegates if these seats ofprivilege are not made available to us. In order to fill these spaces, theseroles, we must be assisted in, empowered and prayerfully supported to step intosuch positions. To achieve age equity of representation, we must work togetheracross boundaries of age, of ethnicity and of identity, to achieve such equity.Just as we must work beyond boundaries to achieve racial, ethnic, and culturalequity as a global church.

So. Whereare the young people? Where will our church be in twenty years if the presence,the voices, the opinions of our youth and young adults are not heard now? Weare not the future of the church. We ARE the church. Just like all other UnitedMethodists around the world.  Might ourdelegate representation, our funding, our presence as a church reflect that.

Where arethe young people?

We arehere. Charged. Rooted. United. Waiting to be heard.  Waiting to speak. Waiting to be supported. 

Michelle Dromgold is a Mission Intern of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. She is currently serving at the Kindertreff Delbrücke at the Salem Gemeinde in Berlin, Germany. There, she works as a social worker with an emphasis on intercultural and interreligious dialogue amongst the children and youth at the after-school program and with local United Methodist Congregations. She is a member of Dumbarton United Methodist Church in the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference and was active in the campus ministry at American University.

The Power of "They"

This evening, delegates and visitors to General Conference were invited to receive a presentation on what’s called the Call to Action.

The Call to Action is a group of proposals initially called for by the Council of Bishops that seeks to reverse numerical decline in the United States (and with it financial decline). Well, that’s not how they would say it, but it’s pretty accurate. A variety of proposals and resolutions are included in the Call to Action, but I want to focus on the call for reaching out to young people and training more young clergy.

Now, this is one part of the Call to Action that I should support. I’m a young person. I’m training for the clergy. Surely this area of the Call to Action is for me.

But when Rev. Adam Hamilton—the pastor of the largest United Methodist in the United States—presented this area of proposals, he chose a word to  describe me which turned me, once and for all, against the Call to Action.

The word he used to describe me was “they.”

Why aren’t we reaching out to young people? Because “they” speak a different language. Because “they” have never used a rotary phone. Because “they” see the church as irrelevant.

I wanted to yell, “WE’RE RIGHT HERE!!!”

Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that the UMC has to change the way it works to listen to the voices of young people. But treating us as a faceless “they” who can be summed up by Twitter and Facebook isn’t the way to go about this. Supporting young seminarians sounds like a good idea to me. But how are we going to be doing it? By churning out faceless “theys” who are supposed to be good at reaching out to young people because we are also young? By teaching us all about “them,” a monolithic organism under the age of 35? Or by listening to the voices of actual young people, our hopes and our fears and our dreams? By matching actions to words? By acting, not just speaking, for justice and extravagant love?

I am part of the church. Many of my friends are not. Treating us like an undifferentiated mass of “they” just marginalizes us all, and avoids the real question: Will the church be the church?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

So Lift Me Up to the Light of Change

This is the first in our series of posts about General Conference 2012. For those of you following our work from home, check out the General Conference At-Home Kit and stay tuned to the blog for more reflections!

So General Conference is kinda overwhelming.

I got up early, realized I forgot a bunch of important stuff (don't worry--- did not forget sunscreen or underwear which are the most important), finally got to Tampa, dropped off my bags, and didn't see the hotel room again for a long time after that. Now, of course, there are people who don't sleep at all during General Conference, so I should not complain, but just the running around without having any clue what is going on is pretty tiring.

But the thing about any big Methodist event is that no matter how boring voting on whether we should end at 9 or 9:30 or at the discretion of the committee chair is, no matter how tired you are, and no matter how stressful the day has been, there are these moments of intense, beautiful connection, like when I was standing in the airport and jumped into a conversation with random people because I noticed one of them was wearing UM swag. When a friend I hadn't seen in a while jumped out of nowhere and gave me a hug--- oh and there have been so many hugs from so many people! When a person I had met five minutes before bought me coffee because I was already looking frazzled. When I got a text message courtesy of one of those mass text-messaging organizing tools following a proposed rule to outlaw protests because people know how powerful our demonstrations were before and just how close we are to making the church a more just place. So that last one was a crazy run on sentence, but you get the idea. When me and some seminary friends skipped down the river walk and just breathed in the salty air.

There was a commissioning service for Common Witness Volunteers in the evening in what's called the tabernacle--- a big tent across from the convention center. In it we sang a song by Holly Near:
I am open and I am willing
for to be hopeless would seem so strange
it dishonors those who go before us
so lift me up to the light of change. 

These moments of connection lifted me up to the light of change. It reminded me through all the stress and through the fear--- frankly, fear that the church won't change or that it will for the worse--- that we can do beautiful things together. Lifting each other up to the light of change.


Shannon Sullivan will be graduating from Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey, in May, and will serve a two-point charge in the Baltimore-Washington Conference starting in July. She is also a member of the OnFire leadership team. She blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Preparing for General Conference

General Conference begins next week!

As many of you may know, General Conference is the only body that speaks for The United Methodist Church. Bishops don't, pastors don't, agencies don't--- it is General Conference, which meets every four years. This year, we are meeting in Tampa, Florida from April 24-May 4, delegates from all around the world--- forty percent of the 996 delegates will be from outside of the USA.

One of the key issues this year for General Conference is restructuring. Everything is dependent on this. Please visit MFSA's website Plumblines to see legislative analysis of all the issues MFSA and the Common Coalition will work on, but if there is one issue you should read up on before General Conference, it is on restructuring. So here is an explanation from the MFSA website.

This is our current structure:

The idea is that this is bulky. There are a lot of resources going towards different boards and so the Call to Action report has proposed a change, supported by the bishops and many others, to streamline this process.

This is the Call to Action structure:

The problem with this structure is that it is a corporate structure that puts too much power into too few hands. A twelve million member church led by fifteen people in a Board of Directors--- which in itself is led by an Executive General Secretary?

So MFSA has put forth a new proposal:

In this petition, the structure is still streamlined by focusing on centers of ministry rather than all different boards, but important voices are kept at the forefront.

This is a very brief overview of restructuring, but it is an important visual to help us better understand what is going on this General Conference.

Follow the justice work of the Common Coalition! Check out their website for information, explanations, and inspiration.

Not coming to General Conference but still want to learn about the justice work being done as it happens? Check out our General Conference At-Home Kit.

To hear more about General Conference from young people, visit A Call to Action: Who's/Whose Calling?.

And keep checking out blog for daily reflections during General Conference.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday: A Holy Week Reminder

by Eva Englert

A Holy Week Reflection.

God has a way of speaking to us when we least expect it, or does so in ways that are more eye-opening than we can often prepare ourselves for. The past couple of days I've been lost in my own thoughts, preoccupied mostly with my everyday responsibilities. After leaving Walmart where I purchased some things for my children's ministry position, I encountered a homeless woman, perched on a curb, holding a sign that read "Broke Widow: Anything Helps," with her little dog beside her. I drove by, headed back to my college, and that's when the tears began. Something deep within me told me that I could not just drive away from this person. Here I was meeting Jesus, tired and outcast by an unjust society, and I was going to drive away? I returned to where she was sitting and handed her some cash. She accepted, saying she appreciated the gesture. As she did, her eyes were almost cast downward, as if she were ashamed of who she is and of her position. It deeply moved me. What an appropriate encounter for any time, but especially during Holy Week. There I was, caught up in my own petty problems, and God shook me and said, "Here, Eva, this is what really matters. This is where your life should be direction—where the compassion I have given you gives you purpose." May God's comfort and peace be with all who sit in our city streets, and may we be moved to help those in need. In our American consumerist society, we live in excess and often think it is our right to consume as much as we want. May God forgive us, and point us toward the suffering and resurrection of God’s astounding, barrier-shattering, challenging, and ever-present love.


Eva Englert is a senior at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, originally from Dallas, Texas. She will be spending my summer continuing work as a children's minister in Morrilton, Arkansas, before completing a year of service work and applying for a Masters of Divinity for the fall of 2013. She is passionate about social and environmental justice issues, and is committed to incorporating them into future ministries.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday: Foot Washing

by Tiffany Kromer

A Maundy Thursday Reflection.

Pop quiz.
1. How do you define a great leader?
Jesus gets the award for the grossest answer:
"A great leader is one who washes dirty, stinky feet."
2. How do you define love?
Again, Jesus offers the most disgusting of definitions:
"Love is washing dirty, stinky feet."

When I get a pedicure at a salon, I always think of Jesus' definition of a great leader. I look down at the person getting paid to wash and style my gross feet and '’m instantly thankful I do not have her job. She is touching my feet, working hard to smooth away the calluses, filing my nails, and dealing with me jumping every time she accidentally tickles the bottom of my feet. I can tell this is not easy for her, but she actually looks like she enjoys it and she does her job very well. She is my hero. I can honestly say that the only person that can make me do such a dirty job as touching and washing feet would be Jesus, and, well, it takes a lot of coaxing then, too.

In A.J. Jacob's book, A Year of Living Biblically, Jacob's embarks on a year-long journey of obeying the Bible as literally as possible, which includes washing his dinner guest's feet. So, he says to his friend when she comes to his door "Come in! Can I offer you food? Drink? Care to wash your feet in a bowl of water?" He writes that this always came off as creepy to his guests. And then he says "I've realized that foot washing is a surprisingly intimate and private thing, like gargling. In other words, no one's taken me up on foot washing."

If I were to do an informal poll of the congregations I've served so far in my young ministry career as a pastor, I'd say the majority of folks attending Maundy Thursday services would agree with A.J. Jacob's friends--the whole thing is a bit creepy and invasive. So what do we do with this centuries old practice of washing feet? Do we get rid of it due to the creepiness factor? Is the practice meaningless now, since the invention orthotics and moisturizing socks and Nike shoes? Something has kept churches ritually washing feet for centuries, but what is it?

But before we get t0 answering these questions, let's get back to the topic at hand: washing dirty, stinky feet. Just imagine the feet around the table the night of that last supper—the caked-on dirt, the blisters, the calluses, the smell, the ingrown toenails—all souvenirs from their long journey in ministry together.

Back in Jesus' day, it was customary for a servant to do the before-dinner foot washing. By the way, s/he is my hero. Yet, on this last supper Jesus had with his disciples, they were in for a surprise. A servant knelt down with a bucket of water next to Peter. Yet this servant was not just any servant—this servant was Jesus--the disciples' leader, mentor, teacher, the Messiah!
The disciples' eyes widened with disgusted surprise. Peter vehemently refused for Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus did not back down. Instead, he cradled Peter’s right foot in his hands and gently poured water over it, washing, massaging, scrubbing and remembering all the places these feet had gone alongside him in ministr. These feet carried the presence of God, and Jesus was now sanctifying them, making them holy.

Dirty feet made holy.

I think it's amazing that Jesus chose washing FEET to portray his love, the love his disciples should have for one another, and what kind of leaders they should be in the owrld. Dirty, ugly, smelly, sweaty feet revealed to the disciples what it means to really love one another and lead—that no matter how great or powerful you are, you are never too great or powerful to forget about serving and loving one another.

Jesus was willing to touch, wash, clean and massage the dirt and sores and rough places of feet. It is in Jesus lowering himself to do this cringe and gag-worthy and dirty task that shows us that true love for one another and good leadership means to sacrifice your pride and comfort to take care of someone else, to enter the depths of vulnerability and gritty reality in order to show the extent of God’s love for us.

And this is the extent of God's love for us: God always willing to travel through the dirt and the muck of our lives to be with us and love us.

Now, here is the kicker, friends: In order to be effective and loving leaders, we must seek out dirty feet. We must touch dirty feet. We must wash dirty feet. However metaphorically or literally you take this mandate, it is no easy or comfortable or pretty task. This is the work of seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God. This is the work of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

I've noticed something about the lovely, courageous woman—Sasha--who lowers herself to wash and massage and style my feet at the salon down the road from my house. Sasha doesn’t have pretty hands. Her nails are cut to the cuticle. They are taken care of, but they aren’t all drawled up with pretty color. Her hands have the purpose of taking care of her customer's hands and feet. Sasha teaches us the posture of a servant leader. The hard work for others requires us to make adjustments and sacrifice accordingly in order serve others effectively.

I imagine, after a long day at the salon taking care of customer's manicure and pedicure needs, Sasha’s hands can get pretty tired, sore and stiff. In order to continue caring for others, someone else needs to care for Sasha's hands in the same way she cares for her customers’.

Imagine being with the disciples a few months after their last supper with Jesus. They no longer have Jesus in the flesh with them. They miss him and they are struggling with how to be the community Jesus taught them to be. Anxiety, fear and grief most likely gripped them from time to time. But, in the midst of real, messy life, they still had feet. And, they had each other’s feet. And, if for a second they felt lonely or weary, they could always count on that bucket of water waiting for them before dinner where a friend would wash their feet. They would then reciprocate by washing their friend’s feet. And then, they could count on wine and bread shared with friends. By doing these things, they would remember Jesus. They would remember they are loved, they are not alone, and that the world needs to know the good news of this Jesus.
And, Jesus made sure that he gave us things we could touch when he was gone---bread, wine, feet—things that would bring people together –things that remind us to love one another. And that’s why I think that the church keeps the ritual of washing feet alive—because saying "love one another" is not enough—it takes touching and seeing and doing--washing each other’s feet-- for us to know what loving one another is all about.

Therefore, as disciples seeking justice and peace in this world, we too must be willing to travel through the dirt and the muck of this world in order to show God's radical love for the world. In fact, that is what seeking justice is all about—seeking out those neglected, forgotten, dirty, worn out feet in the world and spending our time holding, pouring, washing, scrubbing, massaging God’s cleansing and healing love, grace and presence lavishly and generously.

This is the leadership and love the church needs NOW, that the world needs NOW.

NOW go and seek out and wash some dirty, stinky feet. Go on, now, courageous leader.


Tiffany Kromer is athe pastor Trinity United Methodist Church in Emmitsburg, MD in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. In her free time she loves going on adventures with her husband, play silly songs on her guitar, crochet, and playing fetch with her dog.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm/Passion Sunday: "Aspire not to have more but to be more"

by Lauren Godwin

March 24, 1980, Monseñor Oscar Romero was murdered while completing one of his priestly functions, holding mass. In honor of his work, mission, and life Lauren Godwin has agreed to share a reflection delivered at a Drew Theological School Chapel Service celebrating the experiences of several students and two professors that traveled on a cross-cultural trip to El Salvador. In this specific reflection, Lauren shared Romero's quote listed below and then connected it to the time the group spent in the Nueva Emmanuel Community. This Palm/Passion Sunday, as you journey towards the cross, may you hold the words of Oscar Romero in your heart: "aspire not to have more but to be more."

We visited a community of squatters called Nueva Emmanuel. This is a community, for the most part, that is built out of cardboard, metal, and items we would consider junk or trash. We had the privilege of taking part in a community meeting where everyone: women, men, children, and some animals showed up to talk to us about their hopes, joys, dreams, and concerns. Not only did we listen to the community, but we also took part in the El Salvadorian version of the chicken dance. We heard story after story about how the community was working together and the struggles that they were facing.

After the community meeting, we split up into teams and visited some of the homes. While visiting with members of the community individually we learned even more personal stories that would move you at your core. After those holy moments, we began to gather back at the van and said our goodbyes to the families that had showed us their homes. I think the thing that sticks out most about this trip to me was a simple request that came from the members of this community: Do not forget us.

Although this request came from the Nueva Emmanuel community, I think it speaks true to the larger country. It seems like an easy request...remember us. In a world where we are told we can buy things for people or give financial support to help a cause, this request to remember requires something more. It requires intentionality, a personal commitment that carries on for a lifetime. It is the same intentionality that I think the scripture call us to in Deuteronomy 4:9: "only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and let these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children. And to your children's children." How will you remember?


Lauren Godwin is a provisional elder of the West Virginia Annual Conference. She will graduate from Drew Theological School this May. She looks forward to graduation, and entering into full time parish ministry where she anticipates continuing to incorporate El Salvador and the work of Oscar Romero in her ministry.