Monday, February 13, 2017

Justice for Our Neighbors: Where God Calls Us



As I mentioned in a recent sermon, it has been a discouraging time as regards our nation’s treatment of immigrants and refugees. The one bright spot has been the extraordinary levels of protest that the President’s recent executive order has stirred. Rev. Janet Craswell and I have begun conversations with American University about how we can be supportive of their international students, and we have collected information on some of the implications of being a sanctuary church. Many folks in our church family have expressed interest in exploring how our church can respond to the challenges our country is facing around immigration. 

In thinking about ways to frame this issue, I was inspired by the words of our Baltimore Washington Conference Bishop, Rev. LaTrelle Easterling:

“’I assure you that when you have done it to one of the least of these … you have done it for me.’” - Matthew 25:40

“As United Methodists we must live the gospel we proclaim. For such a time as this we must preach the courage of our Wesleyan convictions, teach a theology that welcomes the stranger, and advocate a witness that stands with the marginalized and oppressed... Now is the time for us to stand on the side of justice. In the words of Dr. King, 'The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.' Now is the time for us to stand on holy ground.” – excerpted from Bishop LaTrelle Easterling’s Statement on Jan. 31, 2017

Justice for our Neighbors (JFON)

Justice for our Neighbors is a United Methodist immigration ministry. There are JFON clinics at: Salem UMC in Baltimore, Emory UMC/Emory Beacon of Light in Northwest DC, First UMC of Hyattsville, and Epworth UMC in Gaithersburg. 

The Baltimore Washington Conference has developed a resource list to help leaders and congregations discover how to find and stand on holy ground instead of siding with one party or another. Sometimes the line between faithfulness and politics can be difficult to find. But as Jesus’ followers, let’s not allow our fear of “being political” to prevent us from acting out of our grounding in the Great Commandment and Matthew 25. One way of staying on solid ground is to not participate in name-calling or blaming, but to speak to and act on the issue at hand that is not in line with the values and life example of Jesus.

Let’s be love and light together even though we may not agree on specific political parties, agendas and tactics. As John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement said: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

Our Metropolitan Church family will be exploring where God is calling us as a community of faith to engage in the many dimensions of immigration at a meeting on Sunday, February 19, at 1pm in the Great Hall at Metropolitan Memorial to discern how we live out our church’s vision of Extending radical hospitality, transforming lives, and pursuing justice in the context of immigration. A light lunch will be provided. An RSVP (to pastorsoffice@nationalchurch.org) would be helpful for planning purposes, but is not mandatory. 

Please be thinking about some ways that you think we could be involved as a community of faith, and together we will discern where it is we think that God is calling us to stand up for justice in these challenging times. I welcome your thoughts on this at any time and you can reach me at pastorsoffice@nationalchurch.org.

Blessings,

Charlie

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A statement from Bishop Easterling on refugees/immigration




January 31, 2017 

Beloved,

On January 16, 2017, we celebrated the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His message of justice, liberation, and inclusion reverberated from coast to coast as we remembered our national hero. Whether it was during a breakfast, dinner, or church service in his honor, his words decrying hatred, bigotry, injustice, segregation, and discrimination were extolled as morally compelling. Therefore, it is perplexing at best and painfully hypocritical at worst that just nine days later our president signed Executive Orders contradicting everything we revere in Dr. King.

We are a nation of immigrants. Unless your ancestors are of Native American descent, your relatives arrived on these shores from another country. And, save those brought here as enslaved persons, everyone else is the descendant of strangers who came seeking a better life for themselves and their families. This country has welcomed millions of immigrants in pursuit of the American dream. How can it be that we would now close our borders to refugees, immigrants, and even documented persons without regard for our founding principles, history, and religious convictions?

Our holy writ proclaims, "[God] enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). This message of love, mercy, and inclusion is continued in our new covenant, the New Testament, as Jesus shares the parable concerning strangers and the vulnerable. Jesus cautions that each stranger is a representation of himself as he teaches, "I assure you that when you have done it for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me" (Matthew 25: 40). Conversely, when we have not welcomed the stranger, we have not welcomed Jesus. This is what the Lord requires of us. This is the measure of our Christian witness.

We must be careful that our claims of protecting our homeland from violence are not thinly veiled excuses for racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. As our president has signed orders banning all people from seven countries from entering the United States, the most affected religious body of that group are Muslims. He has done this under the guise of national security. We have seen this type of mass discrimination before in our history. Japanese internment camps were constructed during WWII out of professed fear. Many of those interned were United States citizens. On numerous occasions, our country has sought forgiveness for that heinous act of racial profiling. The current Executive Orders are equally heinous. The sins of a few extremists cannot be imputed to the majority of faithful Muslims.

As United Methodists we must live the gospel we proclaim. For such a time as this we must preach the courage of our Wesleyan convictions, teach a theology that welcomes the stranger, and advocate a witness that stands with the marginalized and oppressed. I invite all congregations who want to become sanctuary churches to contact your district leadership about the training and resources available to do so. This is also a time for deep Bible study and reflection. Your conference staff can suggest resources for your use, and the names of persons who can help facilitate your studies.

Now is the time for us to stand on the side of justice. In the words of Dr. King, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Now is the time for us to stand on holy ground.

Blessings and peace,

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling 

LINKS/RESOURCES:

Learn more about immigration, including becoming an Immigrant Welcoming Community.

Read more about the sanctuary movement in The United Methodist Church.

Read more about what The United Methodist Church says about immigrants. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gun Violence Prevention Group (GVP)

...they shall beat their swords into plowshares - Micah 4: 3

Rev. Lucas and the "plowshare"
On December 14, the 4th anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Kent and Lois Weaver attended the National Vigil for all Victims of Gun Violence at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill. Rev. Jeremy Lucas, Rector, Christ Church, Lake Oswego Oregon presented a powerful, personal story.

While on the Internet, Rev. Lucas came across a fund raiser being sponsored by a student sports team to raise money for a trip to a tournament. The prize being raffled off was an AR-15 rifle! Rev. Lucas called the team sponsor and offered to fully fund their trip if they would shut down the raffle. He was told that once a raffle has been initiated it cannot be halted. SO.... Rev. Lucas bought $3,000 worth of tickets and guess what? He won the raffle! He then found a company that would melt down the rifle and convert it into a gardening Tool...which he proudly held high for all of us at the vigil to see. Rev. Lucas then presented the "plowshare" to  Ms. Po Murray, the Chairwoman, Newtown Action Alliance & The Newtown Foundation. What a moment! What a roar of clapping!  

The 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church Resolution #3428 "Our Call to End Gun Violence" cites Micah 4:1-4. I challenge our congregations to offer ideas for ways to recover swords and beat them into plowshares. If Rev. Lucas can do this, so can Metropolitan Church!
If you are concerned with gun Violence and want to make a Difference, join our Gun Violence Prevention Group as we explore actionable steps to address the complicated problem of gun violence. We need many voices....young and old, gun owners and non-gun owners, victims and survivors. If interested, contact pastorsoffice@nationalchurch.org.

Blessings,
Lois Weaver

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Faithful, Faithless, and Everyone in Between – Faith on Campus

“Missing Faith” By Angela Pupino

A lot of fuss is made about the “lack” of religion on college campuses.

College campuses are stereotypically thought of as hotbeds for atheism, doubting, and just about every vice imaginable. And while there’s some truth to this, this is definitely not the full picture.

Before I went to college for my freshman year, members of my home church in Ohio begged me not to lose my faith along the way. What they didn’t understand was that I was already struggling with my identity as a Christian.

I was already reeling from a year of family losses and a particularly nasty pastoral transition at my home church. I was uncomfortable with dry platitudes that my pastor preached every Sunday. I was uncertain of my place in a church that felt old and where members made racist jokes during choir practice. In short, I had already lost a lot of my faith.

But when I least expected it, God and campus ministry pulled me back in.

I feel like many older Christians misunderstand religion’s role on a college campus. Most students, at least those I’ve met, are hungry for greater meaning in their lives. They are looking for a community where they feel safe and loved. But they have been hurt by the faith they grew up with. They have been hurt by their interactions with Christians. And they have been hurt by sermons promising hellfire, hurt by pastors and congregations who turned them away, hurt by parents and relatives who refused to let them ask questions about faith.

My home church has a very small population under the age of 65, so campus ministry was the first time I interacted with a large group of Christians my own age. It was the first time I saw Christianity as a religion of social justice and public service. It was also the first time I was able to see Christianity as a kaleidoscope of different beliefs and practices. I learned that I could pray on a labyrinth and not just in a pew. I learned that there are different translations of the Bible.

Campus ministry offered me healing and reconciliation with my faith. It offered me a place to belong at a time in my life when I desperately needed one. And it offers that space for any student who wants it.

Blessings,
Angela Pupino

Friday, January 06, 2017

When Gun Violence Spawns a Church Partnership



by Rev. Dr. Charles A. Parker and Rev. Ernest D. Lyles, Sr. on December 08, 2016

If you look at a map of our nation’s capital, you will see that the distance between one multisite United Methodist Church in Northwest Washington and another multisite United Methodist Church in Southeast Washington is about 10 miles, and if you drove through the areas around those churches, you would think that they are in different worlds: one affluent, largely white, and largely free of violence; the other economically struggling, largely African American, and caught in the cross-hairs of ongoing violence, much of it gun violence. 

As it considered the issue of gun violence, the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church invited “congregations that have not experienced gun violence to form ecumenical and interfaith partnerships with faith communities that have experienced gun violence in order to support them and learn from their experiences,” and the wisdom of that call can be seen in the transformative partnership that has been forged between Brighter Day UMC in Southeast DC and Metropolitan UMC in Northwest DC.

The partnership was born on a Sunday in July 2011 when the Metropolitan parish declared itself “Closed for Service,” foregoing its normal Sunday morning schedule to spend the day in worship, fellowship, and service with brothers and sisters at Brighter Day UMC.  Over the following five years, we have continued to build relationships, worshipped, and worked together on issues where we share a passion and a commitment to making a difference. 

Parkway Overlook -- an abandoned public housing development in Southeast DC – is a good example of that work.  The 266 units had been closed for many years and its redevelopment had been stalled in endless haggling between DC and Federal agencies.  Brighter Day was adjacent to the property and had parishioners who had lived there and were committed to its reopening.  Metropolitan brought its history and passion on homelessness issues to the battle, and the ability to make the project a cross-city effort, opening up access to key city officials. 

Congregational partnerships lead to community presence 

On June 30, 2013, both congregations gathered for a joint worship service at Brighter Day.  We were joined by many community leaders, as well as then-DC Mayor Vincent Gray.  The service had powerful music from both church’s choirs and moving testimony from former residents who are now advocates for Parkway Overlook.  After the benediction, we walked as one congregation to the site of Parkway Overlook around the corner, joined hands in a circle on the street, and prayed for the future of this site.  Over the last three years, we have worked together and with the Washington Interfaith Network to get the land released by HUD to the city and $16 million in city money pledged to begin Parkway Overlook’s redevelopment.  

Over the years, the congregations have worked together on a variety of projects, including a Summer Academic Camp in the Brighter Day neighborhood, with a STEM curriculum from a NASA grant and youth and adults from both parishes volunteering.  We worked together on putting together Thanksgiving baskets for the community; we did pulpit exchanges; we held another joint affordable housing worship and rally on September 20, 2015; we provided backpacks and coats to neighborhood children; Brighter Day’s after-school program and Metropolitan’s Campus Kitchen ministry have joined to provide tutoring and meals to many at-risk children; and we have had wonderful social and community building events at all of the sites in our multisite churches.

Preventing gun violence as one body

All of this work has deeply informed our understanding of gun violence.  For Metropolitan members, gun violence was primarily an advocacy issue: passing legislation to reduce the number of guns on the streets and address sensible policies for gun ownership.  For Brighter Day members -- living in the midst of almost daily gun violence – the issues involve supporting better education, housing, and employment opportunities.  We have come to understand that meaningfully addressing gun violence prevention issues requires both perspectives, and a willingness to work jointly for the wholeness (and holiness) of our communities.

The partnership that has been formed has created a strong bridge across those ten miles in Washington, DC, and has been life-changing for our communities of faith and transformative for the neighborhoods that we serve.  We have come to trust and rely on each other – we have become family.  We feel God’s call to us to minister to those who are most vulnerable, and we work together to be God’s hands and feet in a city in desperate need.  The gun violence statistics in DC are indeed daunting, but with God’s help, transformation will happen.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

After the Fear … the Hope and Joy of Christmas

to feel a full and untrammeled joy is to have become fully generous;
to allow ourselves to be joyful is to have walked through the doorway of fear…

- Consolations — The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte

Throughout Advent we have heard messages about fear; from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself;” to the more than 400 entries of the word fear in the Bible… "fear not, do not be afraid, do not fear.” In Drema McAllister-Wilson’s sermon on the first Sunday in Advent, she shared words from Peter Gomes’ sermon “When Life Begins.” He wrote, “everybody is fearful, terrified of some public or private demon, some terrible unnamed fear that gnaws away even in the midst of our joy."  He continues with “every one of us is a hostage to fear.”

If Advent is a time of searching and facing our fears; this Advent, in particular, we are being bombarded daily, even hourly, with news and fake news, with tweets and posts, and endless conversations post election, of so many things we have fear about (health care, immigration, racism, sexism, climate change). Drema challenged us in her sermon, “What will we do with the fear?”

In David Whyte’s essay on “Joy,” quoted above, he continues with, “Joy can be made by practiced, hard-won achievement as much as by an unlooked for, passing act of grace arrived out of nowhere; joy is a measure of our relationship to death and our living with death, joy is the act of giving ourselves away before we need to or are asked to, joy is practiced generosity. If joy is a deep form of love, it is also the raw engagement with the passing seasonality of existence, the fleeting presence of those we love understood as gift …”

As we travel through this Advent of Fear, we have the opportunity to practice joy, to face our fears, to give of ourselves before we are asked. In our search for joy in the place of fear, we may find ourselves kneeling at the manger, filled with hope, looking into the face of love and there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18).

May this season of Advent draw us together, to strengthen each other as we face our fears, to give of ourselves just a little bit more, and to be open to love.

Blessings,
Patrisha S. House

Friday, November 18, 2016

Faith as an Anchor


Every year, the members of The Metropolitan Church reflect on the fact that what we do with our time and our money is a profound reflection of what we value, and has a profound impact on what we become. With remarkable generosity, year after year, the Metropolitan congregation makes the work possible to fulfill our vision of extending radical hospitality, transforming lives, and pursuing justice.

It is God who has chosen to give us the gifts and graces to undertake the work we have been given to do. Each year, when you entrust the church with your hard-earned treasure, it is an act of faith in that when we give sacrificially God provides us with what we need to accomplish God’s work. It is through this and our other spiritual disciplines that we come to see faith as an anchor, both for our lives and for our community.

Healthy giving is an expression of healthy faith. God provides us with generous abundance and teaches us – through the discipline of stewardship – the gift of generosity. The work we do as a church is vital to our city, the church itself is vital to us, and the work God is doing in each of us is an anchor for our life.

Our beautiful buildings host vital and transformative worship every week, as well as making so many of our ministries possible: storage and cooking facilities for the many tons of food donated and the hundreds of volunteer hours donated for Campus Kitchen, the hundreds of volunteer hours of Christian education, training for the transformative work of the volunteers who visit people in hospitals and providing emotional and spiritual support, the two year-round transitional housing shelters, the welcome provided to our American University students, the relationships built between churches separated by economics, race, and a river. It is through these critical programs and infrastructure that Metropolitan has become an anchor in the city.

One of the most profound ways in which we live out our faith is through our giving. Stewardship is the way that we free ourselves from the bondage of our possessions and demonstrate in tangible ways what our faith means to us. So, during this stewardship season, let me invite you – prayerfully – to do the following:

  • If you are a pledger: thank you! You are part of the financial backbone of our church. I want to invite you to explore a pledge this year that represents a percentage of your income. 10 percent is the Biblical standard of healthy giving; but wherever you are in working towards that, think in percentages and pray about how you might grow this percentage giving over the years.
  • If you are a giver, but not a pledger: thank you! Your gifts help sustain the important work our church does.  I want to invite you this year to move from simply giving to making a pledge. The pledge is the fundamental tool of a healthy giving discipline. In music, in sports, in finances – in every area of our lives – we only grow when we engage in a structured, disciplined way. While any discipline can initially feel foreign and constraining, as you live into it, you will see it begin to produce fruits. Even if you do not plan on increasing what you are giving, just put that number down as a pledge and trust that this act of faith will change you.
  • If you don’t give money, we are grateful for the gift of your presence. Let me encourage you to take the step of giving something. Giving, by its very nature, changes us. Study after study shows that giving makes us more happy, more generous, more healthy (physically, emotionally, and spiritually!). Your giving to our church will not only give you a greater sense of ownership in what happens here, but it will help touch countless lives within and beyond our community. So, give giving a try; your life will never be the same.
As always, I am deeply grateful to all of you for your commitment to our community and our vision of extending radical hospitality, transforming lives, and pursuing justice. I pray that your faith will be more and more an anchor in your own life, and that the power of God’s Holy Spirit might be a source of abundant life for you.

Blessings,
Charlie Parker