Friday, May 31, 2013

From Texas to Taizé: A Preview

A panoramic view of the Church of Reconciliation at Taizé

On May19, I had the blessing to embark on a fantastic journey as a pilgrim to the Taizé Community.  Bishop Mike Lowry of the Central Texas Conference and Rev. Dr. Larry Duggins of the Missional Wisdom Foundation led a group of 21 young adults and leaders from the CTC on this spiritual pilgrimage to worship, pray, and live in community.  During our week of worship we joined with 2,500 other pilgrims representing 35 nations from around the world.

There's a lot to say, and I'm still absorbing the experience.  From a week in prayer, to three days touring the many landmarks of Paris, my cup overflows with God's blessings.  What makes the experience so much the sweeter was being able to join in the journey with my wife.  It was a time to dwell with the Holy Spirit, it was a time of building community with my peers here in the Central Texas Conference of the UMC, it was a time to experience real hospitality.

Over the next several weeks I'll be sharing on the many elements of the pilgrimage, but for now, just a few pictures of our travels!

The altar of the Church of Reconciliation, the house of worship of Brothers of Taizé.  Some things moved around, but this was the usual set up.

The simple grave of Brother Roger, the founder of the order of monks that serve the community and abroad.  His grave was in the midst of many of the most ornate resting places, yet his, and the graves for all of the brothers, bore simple wooden crosses and a garden of living flowers.

One of the beautiful chandeliers and a few of the stained glass windows from Notre Dame in Paris.

The Rose Window from Saint-Chappelle, in Paris.  Literally some of the most beautiful stained glass on earth with each panel telling the story of the bible going around the sanctuary.  The camera on my phone could never do it justice. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Make us One, Lord

Make us one, Lord, make us one;
Holy Spirit, make us one.
Let your love flow so the world will know
we are one in you.

               - Carol Cymbala, 1991, TFWS 2224
This past Monday, the Dream UMC movement had a synch-blog event in which bloggers contributed entries along one theme: "Is Schism The Best Future for the UMC? Why? Why Not?"

As you might guess, our politically divided UMC blogosphere was split on whether schism was good or bad, inevitable or able to be prevented.  UMC clergy Eric Folkerth and Jeremy Smith wrote a couple of entries I found to be illuminating and stretched my thinking.

What do I think?  I think schism would be bad, and I don't think it's inevitable.  But ... Some thinking needs to change, and a lot of real praying needs to happen.

I'm a left-center Methodist, and a card-carrying independent.  I find it fascinating that our denomination can be so diverse in perspective, but it can be a struggle to see what unites us.  There's a lot of proof-texting going around, not just of the word, but also of the Wesley Brothers themselves.

But I say praying needs to happen ... I think when people who are at opposite ends of an issue enter debate, the prayer often is "God, can you get the other person to change their mind so I can have my way, and my way is your way, right?"  As opposed to, "Merciful God, please send down the Holy Spirit here as moderator."

For three years I had the blessing to serve Aldersgate UMC in Slidell, LA.  It was a church that struggled through the recovery process post-Katrina with so much amazing grace.  They were a pillar of the recovery effort in the community and still are.  But things still changed for the church membership and they (we) were struggling to offer three services on Sunday morning.  We needed to go to two, and our contemporary service needed to move off of the Sunday school hour and into the later, 11am, time slot.

We knew it needed to be done.  The church wasn't doing well.  Scaling back needed to happen so the church could rebound in a mighty way.

We took surveys, we went through committee meetings.  It was a 6-month long process just to get the data together to present a plan.  We tried to shove it through the Administrative Board, but people hadn't gotten the memo clearly enough that changing our service formats was on the docket.

So the decision was made to have a Church Conference - a scenario where every professing member of the church gets a vote.  A scenario primed for heated discussion.

But my very wise pastors structured the meeting as worship.  We opened with prayer, called down the Spirit to be an active participant in our talks.  We sang the chorus printed above, "Make us one, Lord ..."  Anytime things would get heated and we needed to press pause, my pastors would nod at me and I would step over to the keys and we would sing again.  Happened a half-dozen times.  But it worked.  Prayer worked.

People are always passionate about their worship styles, and people were there.  I think I even remember one gentleman saying, "Jesus doesn't wake up until 11am, and he only wants to hear the organ when he does."  I'm not kidding.

But the real prayer lifted up that night on each individual was, "Lord, is it my heart that needs to be changed?"

The new plan, after a hard 2-hour meeting, passed unanimously.  Not everyone was happy about it, but all saw the good that would come.

A holy meeting was called that brought everyone together.  What would happen at  GC2016 if we let the Holy Spirit really do its work?  In our committees between now and then?  The Holy Spirit can move us when we genuinely gather those of opposing perspectives to do the work together.  I believe that, but maybe that's just the moderate in me.

I do pray for the Spirit to come through for us, to make us one, United Methodist Church.  Will you join me in that prayer?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Funny Friday: To Beard, or not to Beard?

To beard, or not to beard?  That is the question for young men in ministry.  At least if working in more 'established' churches is where you see yourself.

I remember having these conversations in seminary, and beyond.  Can I get the older generations to respect me when I have this baby face?  For many, the answer is to grow the beard.  I myself have been a bearded wonder for many a season, mostly as my winter face-coat.

For the majority of my time as a music and worship minister, I was the youngest or near youngest in the room during the adult choir practices I was leading.  And I have to say, there was a noticable uptick on the respect-o-meter when my face was covered in bearded awesomeness.  I've sported the hipster goatee since I was in high school, but when things needed to get serious, full on Grizzly Adams was in order.

Yes, for me, conducting Britten needed a beard.

As I've crossed into my 30s, I've experimented and have recently gone clean shaven.  It hurts my heart sometimes, but I do it, and things have been fine.  The thick-rimmed glasses help immensely.

Then, this last Sunday I visited the college class (one of my young adult small groups at church) for the first time.  I introduced myself to many of the students at the start of class.  One of the students came in a little late, so she hadn't met me yet.  She'd also been away at school, so she had no idea who I was.

The leader introduced me a bit later, and the convo went something like this:
"Have you met Jarrod?"
"No I haven't!  Did you just start school at UTA?"
Epic.  The blessings of a baby face.

So what now?  Maybe the answer lies here, in this amazingly thorough and scholarly researched infographic from Out of Ur:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Going on a Piligrimage

In a few short days, my wife and I will be embarking on a big journey, as we'll be joining in Bishop Mike Lowry's Pilgrimage to Taizé.

The Taizé Community of Taizé, France began near the beginning of World War II, when the man who would become Brother Roger sought to create a place to shelter refugees from the war.  Through some early ups and downs a monastic movement took shape, a group of brothers living in the world, but not of the world.  The brothers (now over 100) live in the home community in France and a few other missions around the world.  It is a center for peaceful prayer that young adults have been travelling to for decades.

Out of the community has come a style of worship known simply as: Taizé.  I first experienced the Taizé style of worship as a sacred music student at Perkins.  The music is chant based, with short refrains repeated for several minutes in a swelling dynamic to create an atmosphere of worship that is thick with the Holy Spirit.

The ecumenical nature of the community is in the fabric of it's worship - when you make the visit to Taizé, worship will be sung in your language and every language represented by the pilgrims there that week.

I've hosted many worship experiences in this style, and I always tell people as a leader in this style, the point is to get out of the way.  It's a style so far from what we're used to in most churches.  Leadership is not from the front, it's all around and within the congregation.  The leaders are just there to facilitate the worship of others.

I can't wait to visit.  It's a rare chance to be able to go to the source of such an amazing movement in modern worship.

I'd like to ask you to pray for me, my wife, the Bishop, and the amazing group of Central Texas Conference young adults and staff that are making this pilgrimage.  It comes at a crazy time in the life of my family as we've just made a huge vocational change with me stepping on the path to ordination.  But Leanne and I are looking forward to take a step back to pray and worship together as we immerse ourselves in the Taizé community.  We are very blessed.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Little UMC Irony in the Mail

One of these things is not like the other ...

Or should I say, "One of these things does not like the other ..."

I found it funny, and so United Methodist, that I received,  in the same day, an envelope with info on the Reconciling Ministries Network and a magazine from Good News.

Can you guess which one I actually asked to get?

I'll give you a hint ... I was both followed and unfollowed by Good News in the same day on Twitter during General Conference - for snarkily challenging an off-base article.

This was just too good not share!  And while I disagree with one of the above groups on quite a lot of their politics, I do think it's a strength of the UMC that we run the gamut of so many perspectives on so many things.  It's groups like these that can make it really hard to pin down what exactly the UMC is, but maybe that's ok.

At least Good News and the RMN an coexist in my office mailbox.

Monday, May 6, 2013


A few months back, I had the opportunity to go to a free conference in Arlington, You Lost Me Live offered by David Kinnaman and the Barna Group, an introduction to their new book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church ... And Rethinking Faith.  It was a fairly compelling day, but I put the book on the shelf until recently.  This book contains a ton of data on what's being referred to as the "dropout problem".  Where the book UnChristian focused on young adults that have never been a part of the Christian Church, You Lost Me focuses on young adults that are drifting away - in droves.

The research specifically looks at young adults from 18 to 29 years-old and seeks to discern where they are on their faith journey today.  It's a period of life that's long been attached to wandering ... There's a lot of life change in our 20s ... College, moving out, starting a career, marriage, kids ... It's an overwhelming period of life.  If there's a time when people are more likely to wander from the church, it's here.  And it's common - has been for decades.  For the longest time the churches stance on 20-something ministry was "They'll come back when they get married and have kids."  Ever hear that one before?  Problem is, young adults do still begin an epic period of wandering after high school - they're just not wandering back to the church as much as they used to.

I've been working my way through this book for a couple of weeks now ... It's a metric-ton of data.  One of the things Kinnaman does for us is break down the dropouts into three (biblicaly oriented) categories: nomads, prodigals, and exiles.

The 'nomad' moniker resonated with my own college years, a pivotal time in my own faith journey.  From page 63, here's how Kinnaman describes 'nomads':

"...the first, and most common, category of dropout - the spiritual nomad, the wanderer.  For these young adults, faith is nomadic, seasonal, or may appear to be an optional or peripheral part of life.  At some point during their teen or young adult years, nomads disengage from attending church or significantly distance themselves form the Christian community ... Most, however do not discard it entirely."

In high school, I was highly involved in my church youth group and the church in general.  I was there all day on Sunday - Sunday school, corporate worship, youth bell choir, youth choir, and youth time, I even sang with the adult choir on occasion.  I did everything.  It was a fantastic program to be a part of.

Then college happened.

I immediately joined a church in my college town, and joined the choir at the church the second week of school.  It was a strong church with even a small college class.  My choir director at college was very active in the faith family and he strongly encouraged me and others in the choir to be active at the church, and that was awesome.

But then life happened.  Ever see a schedule for a music major in college?  There's a lot of extra stuff that no one gets credit for.  So the drifting started, almost immediately.

I had to work to pay the bills.  Sometimes on Sunday mornings.  The drifting continues.

I dated the choir director's daughter.  We broke up - super tough times.  The wandering gets easier.

I turned 21.  Partying, drinking.  Normal college hijinks.  What time was church again?

I'm being honest here.  Honesty is still the best policy, right?

I didn't attend a worship service in my college town with any regularity for nearly three years in college.  I was a spiritual nomad - I still considered myself a Christian, but church wasn't high on the list of priorities.  But, I did have a anchor to my faith through my own period of wandering - my home church.  When I came home, I couldn't have been more welcome.  People there built relationships with me that are still standing.  And through that whole period of wandering I felt a call to ministry that people in my home church affirmed.

It also helped that it was the church that my parents still went to, but like many young adults, the opinion of my parents on my faith journey wasn't the biggest of factors - sorry, Mom and Dad!

My college years typify what the 'nomad' has often looked like in the young adult faith journey - except now the wandering doesn't lead back to the church nearly as often.  A lot of people in the more 'mature' generations want to know what the magic bullet solution is to the dropout problem.  I haven't gotten to the solution parts of You Lost Me, yet.  But I will tell you what brought me home - relationships.  People invested in me.  People checked on me (and still do).  The church is relationships - not committees, or boards, or preachers, or websites.  And now my wife, my son, my friends, my family keep me in closer relationship to God now than I ever could be on my own.

It's all about relationships - people investing in other people.

So, if you're part of a church struggling to 'attract' young families, ask yourself, "What are we actually doing to build real relationships with young people?"  That's where to start.