Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Church and the #MeToo Movement

Saturday was a joyous day as leaders from throughout the Mountain Sky Conference met in Bozeman
Henry Timms shares with the MSC
for a day of learning, dreaming, planning and leading. We were blessed to have Henry Timms, author of “The New Power”, with us, to help us consider ways of doing and being that can help us engage and empower more people throughout our area to encounter and live out the Good News of Jesus Christ in life-transforming, life-changing ways.

There is a critical need in our communities and world for this Word. It is time for the Church to step boldly out its front doors and into the world to offer healing and hope. This week, the Billings area was rocked by news that a Miles City coach had, over the course of 28 years, deliberately and systematically abused more than a 100 boys entrusted to his leadership. The unspoken pain that has been carried throughout that area has been a weeping wound that has crippled individuals and families. We as the Church are to be agents of God’s healing. How are we responding?

The #MeToo movement and the recent #WhyIDidntReport response to the question “Why did it take 30 years for someone to report a sexual assault?” are revealing just how widespread sexual violence is. And the Church is not immune. The Roman Catholic Church is being rocked by allegations of sexual abuse, with the latest reporting that “300 predator priests have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 victims.”

And Jesus wept.

Tomorrow, there will be many people—women and men—attending church for whom the news has triggered painful memories of violation. There will be those who have only cried their pain to God, never uttering it aloud, out of fear that they will be disbelieved or harassed further. What will they find when they come to church? Will it be a safe place where their very being will be treated tenderly, respectfully, and with much honor? Will there be a place to share a prayer with sighs too deep for words? How will they know you will not betray them?

And what are you doing for our children? Have you reviewed your Safe Sanctuary Policy? Has everyone who worked with children had a background check? Do you make sure there are things in place to safeguard our children, so that they will know church to be a place of nurture, compassion and care? It doesn’t matter how big or small your church is, having in place policies that protect our children’s well-being—and carrying them out—is not too big a burden. It is a responsibility we all share.

Tomorrow, may all those who come into our churches, with whatever wounds they bear, know they are coming into a house that takes seriously a sacred trust to honor and respect one another. May they hear and truly believe what was written by the prophet Jeremiah:

“They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!” God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again…you’ll resume your singing, grabbing tambourines and joining the dance.” (Jeremiah 31:2-4)

May the survivors in our midst find God looking for them. May God’s love wash over them. May they find healing and wholeness as we all stand on hold ground together.

For Safe Sanctuaries resources, see

To be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area, call the National Assault Hotline, 800.656.HOPE (4673) or check out You are not alone.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Spirituality for Our Times

I write this from a retreat center south of Denver. Following the conclusion of a weeklong cabinet meeting, I stayed on to enter into a period of silence. I recognized within my soul a hunger to be in quiet communion with God as I ponder our life together as a new conference.

My time has included periods of prayer, long walks, rest and reading. As I browsed the retreat center’s library, “Wisdom Distilled From the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today” by Sister Joan Chittister seemed to literally fall into my hands. It is an exploration of St. Benedict’s Rule, formulated in 5th century Rome. Chittister beautifully breaks it down into guidelines for our present age.

Chittister wisely notes: “Spirituality is more than churchgoing. It is possible to go to church and never develop a spirituality at all. Spirituality is the way in which we express a living faith in a real world. Spirituality is the sum total of the attitudes and actions that define our faith.”

I have been reflecting on that paragraph ever since reading it, as I consider that across our conference, Sunday Schools, Bible Studies, Prayer Circles, and Adult Classes are getting back into gear after a summer hiatus. As Sunday School teachers pull out curriculum for our young people, what do we hope will be transmitted to them? Are we simply happy to offer some familiar Bible stories or are we helping our young connect spiritually in ways that will assist them as they grow to adulthood? What spiritual practices do we teach that can help them in their daily lives? Are our Adult Ed and Bible Study classes places where we attend mainly to socialize or have a good debate, or are we helping one another wrestle with God, seek a deeper understanding of scripture, open ourselves up to a fuller prayer life, in order to help us connect what we learn in class together to the demands of 21st century life, where there never seems to be enough time, where health problems arise, where loved ones break our hearts, where we think we hunger for more but what we really hunger for is meaning in the midst of it all? If spirituality is the way we express a living faith in the real world, are we giving one another the tools to face a challenging world? How are you expressing a living faith in the real world?

Our time of worship, too, ought to be a time of individual and corporate spiritual growth (because communities share a spirituality as well).  Our worship should help us not just regain a spiritual balance so we can face the demands of the new week, but should challenge us to greater connection with God and one another. It is this connection that needs constant tending if our spirituality will be mature enough to help us navigate the complexities and crushing disappointments of life.

May you find your spirituality stretched in new ways tomorrow and may you bring that newfound wisdom into all you do in the coming week.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Life of the Party

Over the summer, I happened upon a town that closed off its Main Street for a town party. Antique firetrucks were on display and non-profits had tables to share information on their work. There were also lots of food and drink booths, live bands, and a small play area for children. Spirits were high and smiles were everywhere.

As I walked the length of Main Street, I passed a United Methodist Church. People were picnicking on the lawn and resting from all the activity on the street. However, except for the sign in the middle of the lawn, there was no United Methodist presence at the town party. There was not a table selling desserts or water. There was no one to greet the picnickers. The church was shut tight against the happy throng outside its doors.

Several days later I met someone who attends the church. I had mentioned that I was surprised that the church community wasn’t visible at the town party. “You mean that drunken crowd? Why would we be there?” was the response, “Not only that, our security cameras caught someone going to the bathroom in our bushes! Can you believe that?”

Matthew 5:14 reminds us: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” Too many churches are casting a dim light in their communities. Instead of active engagement, bringing the church directly where people are gathering, there is a “they’ll come to us” mentality that is far from what Jesus and the early church intended. There is a sea of humanity right outside the doors of every single church in the Mountain Sky Conference. Do we keep our doors shut tight to keep others out? Or are we willing to go into the highways and byways of humanity, bringing the love of God in life-saving and life-changing ways?

When there is a town party, is your church in the middle of it, bringing the Life to the party? When someone has a need (sometimes as mundane as needing a place to go to the bathroom) do your neighbors find your doors unlocked and a loving community waiting for them with arms wide open?

As we begin a new program year in the church, it becomes so easy to turn inward and make sure our ministries are scheduled and staffed for us. But that’s not why we exist. We exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are here to share the Good News in compelling ways, equip people to share God’s love, and send them out into the world so that broken, lonely people will find a Word of healing and hope and a Beloved Community that continues to grow and change with each new member.

I am praying that this year, we in the Mountain Sky Conference will be on fire with the Holy Spirit, so that every church across this conference will be seen as a vital, life-giving presence in its town.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

To Be a Peculiar People

Two years ago today, I started my ministry here in the Mountain Sky Conference of The United Methodist Church as your bishop. Looking over the past two years, my heart is filled with thanksgiving to God for the life we have shared together. I have been deeply moved as I have traveled throughout our conference, listening to so many of you tell me about what excites you about the ministries of your local church, the concerns you have for your community, the hopes you have for those who will come after you. I have delighted in the ways the Spirit has moved in our midst, bringing new fruit from the labors of so many, as we created a new annual conference together. I have been humbled by the secrets you have whispered to me, seeking relief and healing from the wounds you have carried. I have been energized by the bold faith of our young people and encouraged by the wisdom of our elders. I have been grateful for the ways we have been willing to engage in hard conversations together, allowing grace and love to guide us even in the midst of deep disagreements.

Reflecting on all of this, I can only utter the prayer of Dag Hammarskjöld: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes!”

As we enter this new year together, may we continue to find ways to deepen our love of God and neighbor. We are living in an era where love is in exceedingly short supply. More and more, differences are seen as threatening rather than something to delight in as a gift from God. Bullying and belittling have threatened civil discourse. Violence is seen as preferable to compromise. As followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, what are we called to do? Who are we called to be?

This will not be an easy year for United Methodists, as General Conference delegates determine who we will be for coming generations. Can we be united in mission, to extend the love of God to all in such generous ways that others are inspired to follow Christ? Or will we allow our differences to divide?

May we in the Mountain Sky Conference sink deeply into the ways of Jesus to offer the world an alternative vision of community. I Peter 2 calls Christians a “peculiar people” because the teachings of Jesus are in stark contrast to the world.

“Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.” (I Peter 2: 1-3)

May we lean into love, through which we come to know God more completely. Love never rejects but always seeks to connect. It doesn’t divide but always draws the circle wider. Love never belittles but honors others as made in the image of God.

In this way, may we allow the Spirit to lead us in ways we can’t even imagine, as we love God, each other, and those we haven’t met yet, more deeply and completely.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Leaving a Mark

Earlier this summer, as I was touring the church camps within the Mountain Sky Area, I drove through Nine Mile Canyon in Utah. It is known as “the world’s longest art gallery” due the thousands of ancient petroglyphs left by the Fremont culture and Ute people. Some of the images tell stories, others are of individual people or animals. It is a beautiful, haunting place to visit.

Ever since the beginning of time, humans have tried to leave their mark in the world. Whether through the scratching of pictures on stone, the etching of initials on a tree, or graffiti on the side of the building, there is something in us that compels us to say, “I WAS HERE!”

Last week I worshipped in my home church. Sitting in that familiar place that raised me in the faith, I was flooded by so many memories—Christmas Eve candlelight services, when we’d sing “Silent Night” a cappella as the light of Christ was passed throughout the colonial church to light our individual candles, giggles shared with high school friends in the choir loft during worship, the felt boards in Sunday School that told various Bible Stories, youth group meetings where we shared communion together in the dark, musty basement of the church…

But more than that, I thought of the people who had lived out their faith commitment by mentoring others, in particularly children and youth like me. I thought of Sunday School teachers (some of whom are still there!), youth group leaders, choir directors, and pastors. Some have joined the Church Triumphant, yet I can picture them as clearly as if we just saw each other. The impact they left on my life—and the life of countless others—lives on. Even though their earthly journey is over, they were HERE and made a difference that continues in the lives of those of us they nurtured and mentored.

What mark will you leave behind? Will there be more than a marking stone at your grave to let the world know you were here? Are you being intentional about what you will leave behind in the lives you currently touch? How are you helping them shape their future?

2 Timothy 2:2 reminds us “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men and women who will be able to teach others also.”

Mentor others in the faith that has grounded and guided you. It will be your living legacy as those you touch live it out and share it with others as well.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Building Up The Body of Christ

Sunday’s epistle lesson is Ephesians 4: 1-16. Paul continues to teach the Ephesians about how to live into a common life as the body of Christ. God continues to widen the circle of believers—through Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile claim the name of Christ--and the tensions of difference strain their life together.  Paul calls for a deep humility, a mature faith, and a grounding in love so that what is shared in the midst of the differences builds up rather than tears down.

I think of the current state of our nation and our church. Words that hurt are hurled with alarming regularity. Some claim a moral superiority over others. Others claim the “truth” with a warriorlike orientation rather than through actions that are invitational and instructive.

We need to reclaim the lessons of Paul, who reminds us that God has woven diversity into the Christian community—it is a necessary element if the body of Christ is to be whole and vibrant:

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4: 15-16)

Is your congregation living into this truth? Are you welcoming the variety of gifts each person brings into your shared life and ministry? Is your expression of faith marked by “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love”? (Ephesians 4:2)

I read a tweet today that offered wise instruction on how to live this out: “Every person you meet in an expert in something you most likely know nothing about. Let them help you broaden your horizons.” (@QueerEye on Twitter)

When you go to church, open yourself to the wisdom around you. Watch and see how God is working in the lives you may have overlooked. Listen to the wisdom of someone you may have dismissed. This is how we grow together. This is how unity deepens. This is how the Body of Christ is made visible in our world.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Come Away

Perhaps I have spent too many years of my life in school, but summer is always the time for rest, renewal, and recalibration. There is muscle-memory in me from childhood that recalls the freedom felt at the end of June when school let out. I’d look at my report card, recall all that I had done during the school year, and then throw it aside and enjoy the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”

I think that this is something that Jesus was trying to teach the disciples. In Mark 6, Jesus sends out the apostles on a mission. In twos, they are told to go from village to village and share the Good News. “They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” (Mark 6: 12-13)

When they returned, they were excited to share with Jesus all they had said and done. Jesus, knowing that the demands of ministry never go away, said to them “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6: 31)

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.

How do you give yourself a place of solitude, so you can rest? We live in an era with such great technology that we can work anywhere, but that also means we can work all the time. When was the last time you offered yourself a deserted place, a quiet place, a place where you can be still and listen to the sound of your own breathing?

It is in the spaces of rest that we can reflect on our lives, our work, and our ministry. We can identify those things that we are doing that give us life, those things that invite death, and then make changes so that when we return to our scheduled lives, we can let go of those things that don’t bring us life.

Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”