Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thanks to All Who Voted

The caption poll has closed, but I want to thank all those (all ten of you) who voted. It looks like "Bishop Palmer as Al Roker" has won the clear majority, with 70%. There will be a new poll up shortly. Please vote early and often.

By the way, I saw Bishop Palmer up close last night (I was a "stage page" again), and he really doesn't look all that much like Al Roker in person--in fact, he has mustache, which I had not noticed before, that makes him look distinctly un-Roker like. Oh well, it was still pretty funny!

Yours photogenically,


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Visit From the President (of Liberia)

Today, we heard from the President of Liberia, Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Bishop John Innis, the bishop of Liberia, introduced the President by telling the remarkable story of how she came to be president and how she came to speak to us. She has had a fascinating journey, even having been put under arrest once for speaking out against the government of the time. In 2006, she became the first woman to ever serve as president of an African country.

The president has a distinguished, almost regal, air about her, and speaks with the careful consideration of a person who is well acquainted with speaking to crowds as large as this. She was greeted by a thunderous standing ovation, accompanied by the ululations of several African women in the hall.

I found it particularly touching that Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf was also welcomed by the children of the “Hope for Africa” children’s choir, about whom I have already blogged. What a message of hope for these children—not only that a person from their continent is addressing the General Conference, but that a woman—the first woman president in African history—has proven that a child from Africa can become whatever he or she desires to be.

Some comments from the speech:

-- 3 billion people (nearly half the population of the world) live on less than $2.00 a day.

-- 270 million children around the world have no access to health services.

--1 child dies every three seconds from preventable causes.

--Many children in Liberia were “drafted” to become soldiers in the civil war that took place in that country.

--44% of children in Liberia are enrolled in schools, the majority of whom are girls.

--Incentives are now being offered to talented people who will serve as teachers in rural Liberia.

--Development cannot succeed, unless the citizens are involved in conception and implementation of the development plans.

--The United Methodist Church has stood with the people of Liberia for over 175 years, since we sent the first missionaries to that country (the country’s first president, and the longest serving president, were both United Methodists).

The United Methodist Church owns and runs schools, hospitals, clinics, and rural outposts throughout Liberia.

The people of Liberia are thankful for the Church’s assistance in the past, but the people of Africa need the Church more now than ever before.

--Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf urged the delegates to consider establishing a Western Africa campus for Africa University.

--Children and Youth in Africa are truly our hope for the future; once, when the Presidential security team came through Liberia to prepare the way for the President’s convoy, children ran away. Now, when they know the President is coming, they flock the convoy and encourage her to get out and greet them.

“Liberia is on the way back. Africa is on the way back. There is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Our world can indeed be made a future of hope and peace.”

After her speech, the president was greeted by the Council of Bishops, one by one. One bishop even paused to take a picture of her with his cell phone! I guess even bishops get a little star-struck now and then.

Once again, we are shown that there is a “future with hope” in another part of our world.



Monday, April 28, 2008

Hope for the Future of Africa. . .And, a little slice of Cowtown

Today, I sat in the plenary hall as the "Hope for the Children of Africa" Choir from Uganda practiced for a "celebration moment." Just a year ago, these twenty four children were orphaned and in extreme poverty. Now, they have been given food, clothing, a safe place to live, and a quality education. And, they have been able to travel to this country, to share their beautiful voices and smiling faces with all of us. I cried as I listened to them, both during their rehearsal and during their performance. Their beautiful faith in Jesus Christ, who has meant freedom and a new life for them, touched me in a way I have not been touched in a long time. As I listened, I imagined my own two children, and how lucky they are to have a mother and a father, a home and a school nearby, and safety, food, and love in abundance. How lucky we all are in the U.S., and how complacent we become, when we take for granted all the blessings that God has given us. How blessed we are when we can realize the gifts God gives us--the simple things in life. I pray that the delegates got as much hope from this experience as I did. Maybe the memory of that moment will help them to make the wise decisions that are needed from them at this time in our church history.

A clip of the choir can be found by clicking here (The video is about halfway down the page).

On a different note, a group of us from the Marshal and Page corps went to the Fort Worth Stockyards tonight for some "Cowtown Culture" and a good steak. We accomplished both of these, first by taking a look-see around (I'm hoping that Mary K sends me a copy of the picture of all of us in front of the cattle pens--if she does, I'll post it), and then by going to dinner at Riscky's Steakhouse. Gooooooood eats! Everyone at the MacDonald house (barring the dogs and the cat) now has a souvenir, and I'm happy to have gotten the chance to see this interesting part of Texas.

Long day ahead tomorrow. The President of Liberia is coming to Conference, and there will be lots of work to do to welcome her.

Y'all take care,


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sin and Cell Phones

Much has been made over the past two days about “the cell phones.” This, of course, is shorthand (Methodist-speak, if you will), for a controversy that has arisen over a gift given by a special interest group to a block of delegates from outside the U.S.

It goes like this: The Renewal Coalition held a dinner for delegates from outside the U.S., or those from the “Central Conferences.” At this dinner, there was much talk about how The United Methodist Church needs to be renewed, and how we’ve gone astray, and how we must vote to keep the liberal agenda from destroying the denomination. At the end of the dinner, boxes were handed out to about 150 delegates from Africa and the Philippines. Inside these boxes were pre-paid cell phones—a gift from the Renewal Coalition. On top of the boxes were letters, from “Your Friends in The United Methodist Church,” encouraging, in part, that the African and Filipino delegates vote for a specific slate of officers for the Judicial Council, the highest "court" in the United Methodist "legal system."


You read it right.

Don't get me wrong, I think that delegates from outside the U.S. have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the technology afforded them, but it seems a bit underhanded, and yes, even a little un-Methodist, to go about rectifying the situation this way.

I wrote that "much has been made of this," but really, as I talk to folks back home, there's no indication that this news has even been a blip on the news radar screen. General Conference is such a rarified environment, filled with tension and a fair amount of exhaustion. Cell phones become a big thing when you're locked up in a convention center for two weeks with 1,600 petitions to get through. And tensions can get high when you're in such an environment.

I've been going around this week telling people that I'm much calmer this year than I ever have been about the outcome of General Conference. Maybe it's because I'm getting a new perspective on it. Maybe it's because I've grown since 2000. Or maybe it's because I've seen the care and concern that the delegates are showing in their committees and meetings. The Holy Spirit is flowing in the hearts and minds of the people here, even despite the politics and wrangling (no Texas pun intended). I see it in the careful attention to detail that Matthew Laferty (East Ohio) takes in chairing the legislative committee on Conferences. I see it in the way the delegates keep reminding one another to "slow down," so the translators can keep up, and the non-U.S. delegates can hear. I see it in the hallways and in the hotels and on the shuttles, when the barriers are down and the fatigue of the day has set in. And, I see it when we worship, and 3,000 plus voices are raised in praise of the Almighty God.

Call me an optimist, or maybe I'm just still hopelessly in love with this denomination, but I still think there's hope. I really need to get some more sleep--I'm getting too mushy.

Grace and Peace,


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rural Ministry, Bishops, and Central America, Oh My!

This morning's plenary session was filled with reports from committtees and study task forces. We heard from the task force that has studied the issue of bishops in the church, and some of their recommendations. Then, we heard from our friends in the rural church, as they highlighted the fact that Jesus himself came from a small rural town (Nazareth). Finally, one of my favorite bishops, Minerva Carcano (Desert Southwest), along with Bishop Elias Galvan, presented the report of the task force to study the relationships between The UMC and the various Central and South American Methodist churches, and the Methodists in the Carribbean.
It was all very interesting--not that I had much time to focus, since I was up, down, and all around, passing notes with important information on them ("Meet me for lunch at Joe's"). Everyone wanted the people on the stage to know that it was COLD in the arena--not that the stage party had to be told--it was positively frigid!

After the morning session broke up, there was a communion service, held at the central table, which is at the intersection of the four sections of delegate seating. It was a small crowd, not nearly a huge percentage of the delegates, but the best part of the thing is that "outsiders" were allowed to participate. The bishop who led the service spoke mostly in French, and it was interesting to hear the liturgy, so familiar to me, spoken in a different language than my own. It was actually pretty easy to piece together what was being said, since he followed the standard United Methodist liturgy. What an example of inclusion!

Bob (my roomate) and I attended the Rural Life celebration (free lunch), and I got to see the Fort Worth Water Gardens--a literal oasis in the middle of this bustling city.

One thought that has been on replay in my head this morning is this quote from Bishop Hutchinson: "Have we as a Church been baptized into form, but not yet into power?" I pray that the delegates of this conference will continue to feel the presence of the Spirit of God, and will be "born from above" as they make decisions that are important not just in this convention center, but around the world.

Taking a break for now,


P.S.-- Thank you to the person who sought me out in session today to tell me you quoted from my blog on your blog! I'm sorry I forgot your name, but if you see me again, please make yourself known!

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Quiet(er) Day.

Today was relatively quiet for me. We were able to sleep in, since our shift didn't start until 1:30 in the afternoon. I was slated to work the legislative committee on Higher Education and Ministry. The committee had broken up into sub groups in order to deal with the large load of petitions they had, so I was assigned to the sub committee dealing with Candidacy for ministry. They had an interesting discussion regarding the purpose of the candidacy process, and the "kinks" in the current process. I found it hard to: 1) not chime in on the discussion, and 2) not fall over, since my feet were killing me! I did get a chance to be useful, though, which gives me a sense of job satisfaction. I also got to see Valerie Stultz (my former D.S.), who is a member of the sub-committee.

During my off time this morning, I took a little walk around the downtown area of Fort Worth. It's a very nice city! There was a clean air festival downtown, which seemed fun. I stopped in a bookstore and had a cup of tea and a snack, and generally took in the sights and sounds of the city.

Dinner tonight was one of the highlights of the day--Angelo's Barbecue, which had real authentic atmosphere, and some really good food! If you ever get to Fort Worth, leave the downtown area and head for Angelo's.

People are beginning to buzz about what's happening to the various pieces of legislation coming before the committees and the conference. One thing I've noticed here in Fort Worth that was not evident in Cleveland is the distinct feeling that people actually want to have a civil discussion. Sure, there are nutters on both sides of every issue that want to have it their way or no way, but you'll have that. What I've observed on the part of the delegates this year is a concerted effort to make sure that everyone's voice is heard, that fairness takes precedence over politics, and that the Spirit of God is felt in everything they do. All this makes me believe that there must be "a future with hope" for our Church.

Tomorrow, I will get my first chance to serve on the plenary floor of the conference. I will be sitting by microphone number 12, helping the delegates fill out the paperwork that must be submitted every time they speak to an issue or make a motion. I look forward to getting the chance to see the workings of the conference from that perspective--something that I've been wanting to do for a long time!

Pray for the delegates as they work through a long weekend.

I'm going to bed,


Thursday, April 24, 2008


Check out this picture, and then answer the poll to the left.

Have Fun!


A First. . .

. . .for me, and for the General Conference.

This morning, I was one of many thousands who witnessed, for the first time ever, a "Young People's Address" to the General Conference. As I said to my roomate, Bob, this was the first time I have ever felt that someone was speaking for me at a General Conference. These amazing young people, from all around the world, spoke some of the hard truths that our church needs to hear--about ministry with young people, and ministry in general. I applaud them for having the bravery and the eloquence to bring this message to us. When the address comes online, I'll post a link here.

I served (for 6 1/2 hours) this morning, as a "stage page," which meant that my job was to look after the Bishops. This was easy for the first two hours, since the bishops were not there! They were sitting around the outside of the bar of the conference, so that they could participate in the Episcopal address, which focused on the theme of holy communion. It was an effective presentation, expertly executed by Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher. When she was finished, I had a piece of mail to deliver to her, and she had a distinctly relieved look on her face!

I spoke with Bishop Hopkins today, along with some of the other members of the East Ohio delegation, and have met several other very nice people. My fellow Pages and Marshals are some of the nicest people--I guess you have to be, in order to be able to tell people "no" with a smile on your face, as we have been occasionally called on to do.

One other thing-- pray for the safety of the Bishops. The stage on which they are seated has several different levels, and I had at least three Bishops almost land flat on their faces at my feet today. The last thing we want is a Bishop in a cast, or worse, in the hospital for something more serious. I made sure to say "please mind your step, Bishop," as often as I could remember!

God Bless everyone. Pray for me, as I go to serve soon in a Legislative Committee this evening.

Hope for the Future,


A Storm of Hope

Sorry no post yesterday--this was because of two reasons:

1. It was a long day. We had orientation for three hours in the morning, followed by a quick lunch and then worship rehearsal (an event that we sat through in its entirety, only to be told at the last minute by our supervisors exactly what we needed to do). Then, we had a few hours off to explore the convention center and get to know the lay of the land. Worship began at 6:00, which meant we were in place at 4:30, and we finally got dinner last night at 8:45. Thanks to the nice folks at Panera, we were allowed in at the last minute, before the restaurant closed, and they let us stay around after they locked the doors. That was great, because of reason #2.

2. There was a HUGE storm in Fort Worth last night! When we first arrived in Ft. Worth, I marveled at the very large storm drains, thinking, "Wow, everything in texas really is bigger!" Now I know why. This was not just a storm, it was a driving rain, pouring down deluge, what the old folks used to call a "gully warsher." Bob and I both got soaked--and I even had an umbrella!

All of this was nothing compared to the awesome opening worship last night. The theme of the conference, "A Future With Hope," provided the setting. As worshippers entered the arena, they were invited to dip their hands in baptismal fonts and asked to "remember your baptism and be thankful." (This was my job) I was interested at how this simple action forced people to slow down, breathe, and begin worship in a different mindset than they may have had when they arrived. The music was tremendous--there is nothing like General Conference music to inspire you! We heard music from Africa, Asia, the United States, and even a Charles Wesley hymn or two.

Bishop Janice Huie was the preacher. She spoke in her sermon of how the word "hope" has lost its muscle in today's world--people speak of hope as if it is a mere wish or desire, rather than faith in the unseen blessings of God. She called this former kind of hope a "marshmallow hope," that easily melts and changes shape under pressure or heat. But the hope that we have as Christians, and as United Methodists, is that God is a great God who has plans for us--plans that may not come to fruition until we are all long gone, but plans that will carry on the Church and the work of Christ more many, many, more years to come.

When we got back to our hotel last night, we found the storm had knocked out our electricity--thus, no blogging. But, it was a great day, filled with reminders of the Holy Spirit's presence in our Church, and with true Hope for the future.

Today begins the marathon of sessions, speeches, and standing around (for me), but I can't wait to get started.

Check out videos and live streaming coverage of the conference at the website here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I'm on the Ground

I have arrived in Texas, and the Lonestar state is hot! It was over 80 degrees when I arrived, but I planned ahead and wore shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. I met my roomate, Bob, at the airport, and he had a well-planned out route for us to take from the airport to the hotel. About three hours and three modes of transportation later, we arrived, had a great evening meal, and a good night's sleep. Bob is from the Wyoming Conference (not where you would think it is--, and has been a pastor for about as long as I've been alive! We've found some common interests and experiences, so I think we'll get along really well.

When we arrived in Fort Worth itself last night, we saw the convention center. It's true what they say--everything is bigger in Texas! The conference center takes up about four or five city blocks, and kind of looks like a space ship from the outside--must be the Texas connection to the space program. Folks here are very friendly and helpful, and of the non-natives, all the people we've met so far have been connected to the General Conference.

More later, but I wanted everyone to know that I'm safe, sound, and on the ground. I'll try to get some pics in future posts, so you can see some of what I'm talking about.

Take Care, Y'all,


Monday, April 21, 2008

One More Day!

Only one day left until General Conference starts. Pray for me as I head to Texas tomorrow. Pray for the delegates as they make important decisions, and participate in the "holy conferencing."

Information about General Confernce, and a very nice legislation tracking application, can be found at:

Watch this space for updates from the site of the Conference. . .

Yours in Service,


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Spiritual Gifts Assesment

For those of you who are members of our New Members Orientation Class, here is the link for the Spiritual Gifts assesment. Please complete it and bring your results to our next class.

For others, you might enjoy taking the assesment and finding out what your gifts happen to be, too!

United Methodist Spiritual Gifts Assesment (click to open)

Yours in Giftedness,


Monday, April 14, 2008

And So the Politicking Begins. . .

Despite a concerted effort on the part of the official channels of The United Methodist Church to avoid a "divisive" General Conference, the websites of the various caucus groups have begun their full-scale efforts to influence the voting of that body when it meets beginning next week.

Don't get me wrong, I think there is a significant place for the various interest groups, within and without our denomination. Many of the social justice issues that The UMC has taken a stance on in the past 40 years (and more, in our predecessor denominations) were taken because of pressure from groups like MFSA, BMRC, RMN, and yes, even Good News and the Confessing Movement. The Church needs to hear the voices of all its members if we are to truly have "Open hearts, Open minds, and Open doors."

Having said that, it is disturbing to me that many of the above organizations (and others like them) tend to see General Conference as an opportunity for more of the "us versus them" politicking that has taken hold of our denomination. Every four years, we see the gears turning, on both sides of all the "hot button" issues, to change our denomination either into a bastion of conservative theology, or a haven of liberal concerns. I have, in the past, been a part of these debates (those of you who know me well will know which side I have been on), and I still hold many of those same positions dear to me. However, I have grown to see that The United Methodist Church is a place where such differences of opinion can co-exist fairly easily, with opportunities to be in "holy conferencing" from time to time to allow ourselves a chance to breathe in God's Holy Spirit and seek the guidance of our collective wisdom on matters of importance to the Church and the World.

What concerns me is not that these groups have an agenda--we all have one of those--but that so many are willing to use John Wesley, the Book of Discipline, and even scripture to defend, build up, and support their positions. And, I am disturbed by the fact that no one seems to think that the fact that the "other side" seems to have just as many quotes to support their position--a fact that ought to convince us all of the folly of "proof-texting" to make a point.

All of this is a not-very-clear way of saying that I hope and pray that General Conference 2008 will be different--in tone, in style, and in substance. I pray that the delegates will be able to tackle the tough issues, even the ones that come up time and time again, but that they will be able to do so in an atmosphere of grace and graciousness, in a spiritof peace and cooperation, and in a manner befitting the call that we have to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Watch this space for updates from Fort Worth.

Yours in Service to Christ and the Church,


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Preparing for General Conference

Things are beginning to come together for my trip to serve as a Page at General Conference. I have my hotel (and roomate) lined up, flights to and from Fort Worth, and I'm beginning to get into the mindset of what it will take to be useful to the delegates, bishops, and observers of this interesting and monumental event.

Last night, while Kelly was at a meeting and the kids were in bed, I read through some of the almost 1,600 petitions that have been sent to the delegates--believe me, I don't envy those who have to read them in a more in-depth manner than I did! You can track specific pieces of legislation at the General Conference Website here. I am fascinated by the strange and sometimes downright crazy petitions that get sent to General Conference. For instance, there are two petitions (yes, I said two) that seek to change the wording of the Apostle's Creed. Apparently the Apostles didn't get it right the first time, so it's up to The United Methodist Church to put things right. There was also a petition seeking to hold lay staff members of churches up to the same moral (i.e. non-homosexual) standards that ministers are held to. Now, I actually have no problem with the denomination setting standards for ministers, but as far as I am concerned--I don't care who you sleep with at night, or what sort of relationship you are in--if you can do the job, you should be able to be hired by a local church, providing that the local church has no problem with your orientation or lifestyle.

Wow--that soap box can get pretty high sometimes; makes me dizzy. That's what I'm going to have to try to avoid as a General Conference Page. We received a list recently of the behaviors expected of General Conference staff, and one of them was that we are not to advocate for any cause or participate in any caucusing or lobbying. Fair enough. I'm looking forward to seeing G.C. from a different perspective this time. The last time I went, in Cleveland, I had no such restriction, and had a definite agenda as to what I thought should be the outcome of the Conference. Alas, we didn't rename ourselves "The Super-Wesley Bunch" then, and I don't think it's going to happen this time, either. (It's a joke--you're allowed to laugh.)

As I prepare, I invite all the readers of this blog (all three of you) to be in prayer with me: for the delegates, bishops, and staff of the General Conference, for the visitors to the Fort Worth Convention Center, and for the witness that we will make to the world in a few weeks' time that we truly are UNITED Methodists. Prayer resources for the Conference can be found here. Also, please pray for my feet and hips--which are always the first casualties when I have to be on my feet for long periods of time, which will happen a lot between April 22 and May 3.

Watch this space for updates,


Thursday, April 03, 2008

New Member of the Family

No, we're not expecting a baby!

Actually, we adopted a new "baby" to our family, in the form of a furry friend. He's about three months old, a collie/retriever mix, and he just showed up in the church parking lot about a week ago. We put an ad in the paper looking for his family, but no responses were forthcoming. We figure that he was probably dumped in the park by someone who either couldn't (or wouldn't) take care of him.

He's really cute, and we call him "Cheese." (Get it? Mack and Cheese!)

Potty training is going pretty well--he is down to only one or two accidents a day, depending on how observant we are!

Pictures will be posted as soon as we can get him to sit still long enough to get one that isn't a big blur.

Meanwhile, Mack and Tiger Lilly (especially Tiger) are going through the difficult process of accepting another fuzzy member of the family.

Covered in shed fur,