Closing Ceremony


This is my last newsletter article as your pastor which means that it’s also … AWARDS TIME! Yes, it’s that time in which I look back and reflect on the best (and worst) moments of my pastoral appointment at Kessler Park UMC.

Before we begin, let me say that it has been sheer joy to serve as your pastor. It’s truly been a great appointment, and I have appreciated every moment of it. Thank you for your generosity, your kindness, and your patience.

But now to the awards …

Best Worship Moment: I have a multitude of specific memories from our worship together, including all the special services for Holy Week and Christmas, as well as funerals, weddings, and other times. But our best moments together were when we were at Holy Communion. There is no moment more sacred for a pastor than to serve the elements to each of his members, one by one. Over time, I knew what to expect from each of you — how some of you like to have the bread placed in your hand, others reach for it, some clasp my hand as I give it, some make the sign of the cross before receiving. I learned that Susan Baxley, Paige Bell, and Margot and Sylvie Tomerlin needed the gluten-free bread. I loved giving bread to small children and saying, “This bread shows you that God loves you!” There is nothing like the act of serving communion; thank you for receiving the sacrament from me these past five years!

Worst Creative Worship Idea: There are a lot of candidates in this category, I’ll admit. For example, I dressed up as Captain Bluetastic for a Children’s Time, brought a huge Jenga set onto the chancel, did an improv sermon with my comedy coach, and used all sorts of props. Some things worked, others didn’t. At least I tried to liven things up, right?! But probably the worst idea I tried — the one I cringe at when I bring it to mind — was a Christmas Eve children’s service a couple of years ago when I dressed up as a tour guide for Tony’s Holy Land Tours and led kids around the sanctuary visiting various scenes from the birth of Jesus. Probably the worst thing about it was my obnoxious faux Italian accent.

Favorite Children’s Time Moment: When Paige Bell was our Children’s Minister, she made the mistake of teaching the Hand Prayer to the children in worship. This is a method which involves a different kind of prayer corresponding to each different finger on one’s hand. From the moment she started, we all knew that disaster loomed … and sure enough, Grey Mecca was the one who proudly showed us all his middle finger!

Favorite Special Music: I loved hearing church members use their musical talents outside of the traditional music ministry. Some of my favorite memories include: Mattie Jette singing solo, a cappella, without a microphone because if she did, the roof would be blown off the building!; Nathaniel Ogren playing guitar and singing original compositions; Rob Ballard singing, “Give Me Jesus”; Jim Shoecraft singing “The Old Rugged Cross”; Hannah Price playing every time she was home from college; and every time any one of our children has ever sung, played piano, played violin, or performed in a musical. Honorable mention: even though this didn’t occur in a Sunday morning worship service, I was blown away by the woman who “played bowls” during Jeff Chandler’s memorial service. The music she made was intensely peaceful and calming.

Best Potluck Dishes: This is a dangerous topic because I am likely to leave out someone’s mother’s beloved casserole, but I’ll go out on a limb anyway. I will miss Oscar Brown’s BBQ meatballs which he brought in a crockpot. There were always leftovers which I managed to sneak home to the parsonage. I will also miss Mary Ann Climer’s gumbo and paella which also often happened to make it to the parsonage. Anything baked by Phyllis Smith is worth paying attention to; she often brought fresh-baked warm banana or pumpkin bread to staff meetings, for which I am eternally grateful. And by the way, Eugenia Williams always brought food, even if she never made it herself. She gets brownie points nonetheless.

Best Outdoor Event: Every chance I get, I remind y’all that your property is a blessing, one of the biggest assets that the church has for ministry and mission. I loved the various ways in which the church uses the campus for creating community, from movie nights to community picnics, from Stations of the Cross to Easter egg hunts. But my favorite outdoor event has to be the Palm Sunday service. I recall having the idea of bringing a live donkey to my first Palm Sunday service on the front lawn; the last two years, we’ve had a blues service on the east lawn. I hope you continue the tradition of outdoor worship at least once a year; it’s a beautiful way to take the church outside its own doors.

Finally, the category you’ve all been waiting for … Best Church Member! And the winner is …

You! Congratulations!!

How to Support a Missionary


I might have a terrible sense of timing. I’ll admit that right away.

Lots of my friends and colleagues have questioned the wisdom of my becoming a missionary of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) of the United Methodist Church at a time in which, one year from now, the church as we know it might not exist.

Yes, there are lots of reasons why this may be a bad idea. For one, many churches (including Kessler Park!) have decided to withhold their global apportionments until General Conference 2020 — that is money that is used to fund GBGM missionaries! And what will happen to the general boards and agencies in the event of a split? Which side of the church will inherit them?

One thing I know for sure — those of us who are clergy didn’t opt for the ministry because it was a safe and secure career path! Indeed, we didn’t choose to be pastors — we were called.

The truth is that I’m going back to Africa as a missionary simply because I believe God is calling me and Leah. This isn’t my idea, but God’s.

As I previously announced, I will be teaching at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa beginning in July 2019. I recently received my first semester course load; I will be teaching Methodist History and Introduction to Christian Ethics. I’ve also been asked to co-lead a post-graduate program called Theologies and Perspectives of Leadership. I honestly can’t think of a more important place to be — and role to play — than this appointment, even though I will greatly miss my friends in the North Texas Conference.

But I will need the assistance of United Methodists in North Texas to succeed in my new position. As you may know, there is a financial crisis in our denomination.

Let me explain how missionaries are funded in our current system. First, unlike other missionary agencies, United Methodist missionaries receive monthly salaries from GBGM. Salaries are paid from a general pool of money. At the end of each three-year term, missionaries spend three months traveling among UM churches, telling their stories, and raising money for the GBGM missionary pool.

The money in this pool comes from a number of places: partnerships with congregations and individuals, investments made by GBGM, and from the World Service Fund of the church’s general apportionments.

But the amount of money available has been shrinking. Even before the 2019 General Conference, the next quadrennium budget for GBGM had been slashed by 20%.

One way to ensure that GBGM missionaries can remain on the mission field in the future is to support missionaries like me and Leah with Covenant Relationships.

At last week’s Annual Conference, I invited North Texas congregations to consider entering into a Covenant Relationship with me during my ministry in South Africa. Covenant partners agree to send $2,500/year (or $5/member) to the GBGM missionary pool on my behalf for a period of one to three years.

It would mean a lot to me if Kessler Park UMC considered the same thing. By becoming a Covenant sponsor, you would not only be supporting United Methodist missionaries across the world, you will also guarantee a visit from me in three years when I come back to the States on furlough.

I’d love to have Kessler Park as one of my official sponsors, but even more so, I value your prayers and encouragement. Thank you for preparing me for my next phase of ministry.

Still Waiting

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I’ll be blunt — very few of you have responded to my challenge to write out your call story and submit it to me.

Don’t think you’re hiding from me — I see you out there! I know you might think this is too challenging, but I want to persuade you to try anyway!

Come on, it’s fun!

Perhaps the reluctance to answer “The Call Project” comes from a sense that you haven’t actually been called by God. One person wrote me to say this very thing: “This is very difficult for me, because I don't think I have had a call to tell you about.”

Maybe, because you haven’t been knocked to the ground by a blinding light like Saul, or heard an audible voice from a burning bush like Moses, that you haven’t been called.

But I will restate what I said in the sermon two weeks ago — every Christian has a call. That is, in fact, what it means to be a Christian! It means to have received a mission from God, to be included in the story of what God is doing in the world. When you decide to follow Jesus, you are necessarily charting a different journey for yourself than you would have walked otherwise.

The life of faith is a journey into the heart of God, and the heart of God is full of love and compassion for the whole world. Or to put it in the words of Paul, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

If you have the heart of God and the mind of Christ, then you will be full of a love that breaks for the pain and anguish of the world. When you have that kind of love, you will be unable to carry on with business-as-usual, because business-as-usual for most of us is a life of wealth accumulation, personal and family security, and the pursuit of leisure. You will be unable to walk the streets of the city without seeing people through God’s eyes, and you will suddenly be able to see through the illusions and fantasies of modern life. You will be attuned to injustice and inequality. You will ache for people who have no hope.

And you will want to do something about it.

The whole point of the church is to gather folks who want to do something about the world’s condition in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s why Kessler Park UMC exists, that’s why the United Methodist Church exists, that’s why Christianity in its myriad forms and permutations exists.

I will repeat: every. single. one. of. you. has. a. call.

It may sound like a whisper to befriend unlovable people. It may be merely a hint of interest in a child with learning disabilities. It may be a vocational draw toward a job in the non-profit sector. It may even be to pursue theological studies for the sake of becoming a pastor.

If you haven’t heard the call yet, then all you have to do is get quiet enough to listen. If everyone is called, as I believe, then everyone has access to that call. God speaks. We have to learn to listen; we must develop the capacity to hear God.

Let me reissue my challenge — please write down your call story and send it to me so that I can share it with Eric. If you struggle with putting it into words, here’s a simple template to use, based on my sermon on May 12th:

“I was __________________________________________ (your situation before the call), when suddenly _________________________ (the call arrives), and now I ________________________ (your response).”

Give it a try — I know you can do it!