Friday, April 27, 2007

Albright-Deering Lectures

Each year at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Albright-Deering lectures on United Methodist Studies are held in April in honor of the Rev. Pat and Betty Lou Albright. They are wonderful people and friends of mine; Pat is pastor emeritus at Mt. Lebanon UMC. I try and attend each year out of love for the Albrights; they've also had some dynamite United Methodist scholars in years past, including Randy Maddox and Richard Heitzenrater.

Yesterday, Bishop Kenneth Carder spoke about "Friendship with the Poor: A Wesleyan Means of Grace". Readers of this blog will know that ministry to, for, and with the poor is a subject close to my heart, so I was excited about the subject. I was also able to connect with some sisters and brothers in Christ who were in attendance, which is always good...Dave Coul, Chuck Prevot, Deb Rogosky, Lola Turnbull, George Tutwiler, Jeff Vanderhoff, and Michelle Wobrak were just a few of the folks I had an opportunity to spend some time with.

Today, I'm heading back to PTS for another lecture series, this one presented by Bishop William Willimon, one of my favorite contemporary theologians. I had the chance to meet and speak with him briefly during General Conference 2004; today, I'm hoping to get my picture taken with him.

Some of my notes on Bishop Carder's presentation...

Ministry with the Poor - Why do it? Why make it a priority?

According to John Wesley...
1) It is the only way in which we can imitate Jesus.
2) It is the means through which God has ordained we can achieve sanctification and perfection.
3) It is the only way to be practicing what you ought to be preaching.

"Every pastor should be as familiar with the local jail as with the local hospital."

So much of what we do in the UMC is so middle class...from our worship styles to our clothes to the parliamentary procedure we use during Annual Conference; we've lost touch with the poor and need to reconnect.

Too often, when we talk about reaching out or church growth, we're talking about reaching out to those who are like us. We like to start new churches in white, middle class suburbs rather than in urban areas or rural trailer parks. (Note from Keith: I've said this many, many times, and this is especially sinful for our Conference because new faith communities in trailer parks or a downtown storefront would be relatively cheap to obtain, if we took the time to train our clergy and pledge to support the ministry no matter what.)

Most of us have seen the famous painting of Jesus knocking at the door. We often teach our children that this is an image of Jesus knocking at the door of a person's heart, and one needs to open the door to allow him to enter (the doorknob, after all, is on the inside). But maybe we ought to instead look at this as an image of Jesus knocking at our church doors saying, "What are you doing in there? Get out here!"

Remedies for our neglect...

1) We need to form relationships with people "on the other side of town"...the impoverished, inmates, AIDS patients, immigrants, drug addicts, minorities, trailer parks, public housing projects, etc.

2) Learn to access and utilize the gifts and talents of the poor...don't just minister to them - find ways to use their own precious gifts; exegete your ministry context.

3) Stay focused on Jesus Christ.

4) Develop an accountability and support community; you cannot do it on your own.

8 comments:

Matt said...

Terrific thoughts. I was especially challenged by your comment regarding new church plants always being in white middle-class suburbs and the way our parliamentary procedures exclude the poor.

In a world that is so consumer-driven, what can we do to give our conferences the passion and incentive to minister with those who aren't able to respond with financial gifts. After all, Wesley himself (and this other guy...what's his name...oh yeah, Jesus) ministered to the poor of his society.

John said...

Keith, thanks for the good thoughts. I wanted to make the lectures but the week went in another direction. So I appreciated the lecture play by play.

It is exciting at the moment to be working with 8th Avenue Place (a new church plant in Homestead). Maybe it is the beginning of some great inner-city ministry for the Conference. (I look forward to your input as well).

Have a great weekend. Grace and Peace, John

Roda Zone said...

I did not even know about the lectures...I guess if you don't give money, they blow you off. Sounds like good stuff. Please include mental institutions in your list of places that need ministry.

J. R. Miller said...

Good challange to the UMC. I am curious, as this is close to your own heart, can you share some examples of what you have done at your current church? Are there some things you have been able to implement (like small groups in trailor parks, etc...)that have been a positive influence on your congregation?

Keith McIlwain said...

Just getting started, really. But a good deal of passion is already there. The folks head downtown several times a year for a homeless feeding program. Closer to home, we are involved in the weekly ecumenical food pantry, giving volunteers, money, and food. There are other "temporary ministries" which crop up from time to time as well...mission trips, etc. My predecessor laid some good groundwork in this area, I think.

The trick for any church, I think, esp. in the white, affluent suburbs, is to make real connections, so it ceases to be ministry to and for the poor, very paternalistic, and starts being ministry with the poor, far more relational and transformative (for all).

But that's tough to achieve, and takes time and a lot of effort. And it can be particularly tough in this very white, very middle class denomination, and in a Conference which, in my opinion, doesn't value this kind of ministry very highly.

Good to hear from you, Joe. Hope all is well.

J. R. Miller said...

Well brother, it sounds like you are heading in the right direction and have some well thought out passions. That is an awesome combination!

Our church plant is in a small community that has a lot of old farms, drug dealers, single moms, and yet it is growing with a lot of lower-middle class families who are looking for an lower cost of living (which near Seattle is hard to find). It has been an interesting challange to try and mesh the two very different communities as one church family.

Anyway, I appreciate your blog. Mine is www.morethancake.org. Come by anytime. I would enjoy your opinion.

Jeff V said...

Hey, Joe - this is Jeff V from your days in Campus Crusade at Penn State! Good to see you're still in ministry and doing what God has called you to do!

J. R. Miller said...

Hey brother Jeff! Give me a shout via email at joe [at] ortingreunion.org.