Letter from Bishop Bruce Ough, President of United Methodist Council of Bishops

United Methodist Communications

November 22, 2016

Washington, D.C.: In a pre-holiday, post-election letter to the people of The United Methodist Church, Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the Council of Bishops, called upon all Christians to “remember who we are” in this time of tension and anxiety and work to overcome hatred and discrimination.

The letter follows:

To the People Called United Methodist:

Grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ!

On the eve of Advent and in the post-election climate in the United States, I write as President of the Council of Bishops to call for a renewed commitment to the vision of the Beloved Community of Christ.

Isaiah prophesized that a child would be born to re-establish the beloved community – a time of endless peace, a time of justice and righteousness, a time of reconciliation and unity.

For a child has been born to us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
And he is named
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He shall establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.

Isaiah 9:6-7 NRSV

In a post-election article, Bishop Gregory Palmer eloquently stated the reality of a divided United States. “Everywhere we turn we are reminded of the profound fissures along the lines of gender, race and class, just to name a few. The truth is these fissures and divisions are not new and not directly attributable to the long campaign season just ended. For many years, there has been a growing trust deficit in public leadership and institutions. These are trying times, and the fabric of who we are and who we aspire to be has been stretched beyond anything we desire to look upon. But look upon it squarely we must.”

This state of division and discord is global, fueled by the racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric of the recent U.S. election cycle. Recently, Pope Francis warned against the “virus of polarization” and hostility in the world targeting people of different nationalities, races and beliefs. He was blunt and warned against animosity creeping into the church, as well, noting “we are not immune from this.” Pope Francis reminded us of “our pitiful hearts that tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn” and cautioned somberly against those who “raise walls, build barriers and label people.”

As followers of the Christ, we are harbingers, models and guardians of the Beloved Community. As those baptized into the Body of Christ, we “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” and to renounce the spiritual forces of evil in the world, our respective nations and the church. As disciples of Jesus, we stand against all expressions of hatred, discrimination, oppression and exclusion. As those who serve Christ, we love whom Christ loves. As stewards of Jesus’ Good News, we are peacemakers, pray for our enemies and seek reconciliation with those from whom we have become estranged.

At the November 2010 meeting of the Council of Bishops in Panama, the Council issued a pastoral letter calling for United Methodists to be bearers of the beloved community across the globe. The letter is eerily contemporary and relevant to our current context. It points to the opportunity that is uniquely ours to bind up the wounds and to proclaim the Advent prophecy of a time of justice and righteousness. I include the full text as a reminder of the kingdom reality we are call to incarnate:

“We, the bishops of The United Methodist Church, feel compelled to renew our commitment to work to become the beloved community of Christ. We, as a Council, desire to deal with the crucial issues of racism and the sacredness of every human being. Therefore, as the spiritual and administrative leaders of the church, we issue an urgent call to the whole people of God, lay and clergy: to speak the truth in love in public and private discourse, to act with compassion, and to work for peace with justice in the world.

In order to transform the world, in faithfulness to Christ’s command, we must model respect and kindness and extinguish the fires of animosity. And thus, we call on all churches to engage in genuinely honest dialogue and respectful conversation, such that others who observe the action in our lives might declare, ‘See how they love each other!’

As people of faith, we are charged to build the beloved community because Christ has broken down the dividing walls and ended the hostilities between us. Yet, we continue to build walls in the church and the world which separate us and cause our hearts to grieve.

On the continent of Africa and in many parts of Asia, including the Middle East, the Philippines and India, the historical and contemporary impact of colonialism, racism, tribalism, hostility and religious persecution continue to affect human relationships. The challenge in the Philippines is to break down the barriers between mainline society and tribal peoples. Meeting this challenge will accord equal rights such as land possession and free education for all.

By nature, colonialism in Africa thrives on hostile, violent and demeaning human relationships. Racism and tribalism cut deep wounds, not in one’s flesh and blood, but also on the soul and the spirit. These gaping wounds leave permanent scars.

In Europe racism is a growing issue, with political parties openly working against minority, ethnic and religious communities. Prejudice is overly articulated in the media, in politics and even in churches.

Throughout the United States, there has been a rapid escalation of violence related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religious preference. This escalation includes personal attacks, bullying and vicious and criminal acts of violence to the mind, body and spirit of persons. These actions diminish life for victims and their families, as well as for the perpetrators and the whole community. They are the ultimate, insidious and irreverent attacks on the sacredness of God-given life.

Across the world, terrorism – as demonstrated by wanton acts of violence against innocent persons – leaves a trail of loss of life, limb, home and community. Discriminatory treatment is widely practiced against immigrants and refugees everywhere around the world. All of this creates a universal atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust and fear. Often this is the result of religious persecution of various faith communities, including Christians, which threatens the capacity or hope for reconciliation and peace. The church is called to decisively and directly counter these acts and engender and empower a ‘perfect love that casts out all fear.’ (I John 4:18, NVSV) Through intentional action we can ‘overcome evil with good.’ (Romans 12:21, NRSV)

It is incumbent upon the bearers of this vision of a beloved community to do whatever we can today to hasten the day of a just world with peace. This is our hope, our prayer and our commitment.”

Friends in Christ, this is not an invitation to naiveté. People’s lives, livelihoods, security and well-being are at stake. Immigrants are scrambling for the shadows. Indigenous peoples are disrespected and forgotten. Children of color are being bullied and threatened. Muslims are being labeled and listed. Women are ridiculed and objectified. The LGBTQ community is filled with fear. Racism is being legitimized. Hundreds of millions remain impoverished without access to educational opportunities, economic resources, or equal justice.

We must stand against the meanness and hatred that is upon us. We must stand for what is best in us as People of God. We must not address the anger, fear, confusion and insecurity of the prevailing culture with more blame, attack and criticism. As Richard Rohr recently noted, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” We must stand against bigotry, hate and discrimination in all forms and settings. We must proclaim from our pulpits the Good News that overcomes hatred and fear. We must be quick to confess our own sin and places of complicity and vigilant against all that diminishes the worth of any individual.

So, I urge all who follow the Christ to remember who we are in this time. We are the People of God called to proclaim the mighty acts of Christ who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are the People of God called to create the Beloved Community of Christ. We are People of God commanded to love as Jesus loved. We are People of God created to be the kingdom of God envisioned in the Advent prophecy and fulfilled by Jesus. This is our vision, our hope, our prayer, our opportunity, our commitment. May it be so!

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church

Post-election message from Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

November 12, 2016

Dear Oregon Synod Friends in Faith,

President Obama, President Elect Trump, and former Democratic Nominee for the presidency Secretary Clinton have all recognized the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. They have all pledged their full cooperation to a smooth and cooperative transition of power. This is the American way.  At the same time, the citizenry of this country is playing out significant fear, hurt and uncertainty about what our future holds. I write as your bishop consciously into this context. These realities help us clarify our calling.

We are blessed to live in a country with a constitution that respects and affirms the importance of religious freedoms and diverse voices. This includes all religious practice consistent with the laws of our nation – not just Christian. We in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America joyfully and thankfully claim our traditionWe also accept our role as a moral and value based voice for society. In the days to come, as in the past, we must continue to insist  that those who approach God differently be honored and protected. Thank you to all who have been encouraging and practicing inter-faith cooperation and respect. These relationships will continue to be of importance in the days to come.

I am thankful for our long, Lutheran, history with Lutheran Community Service Agencies, especially the work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugees Services. We are honored, able and equipped to help welcome and resettle people from around the world displaced by war, poverty or persecution. This work must and will continue, and you can give thanks that our church has a vital and central role is such ministries.

While I mean to reference may peoples and circumstances with these words, I also want to mention by name our Muslim brothers and sisters and Syrian Refugees. For some time now both have been becoming the focus of increasing violence and persecution. Our clear call in Christ is to stand with and around such people in times like these.

Many African American sisters and brothers;  gay, lesbian and transgendered friends; our Latino neighbors; and even many women simply by virtue of their gender, are feeling unsafe, insecure and at risk in these post-election days. I pray their fears will pass and security and respect will prevail, but for now I ask your prayers for many who fear for their children, their families, their livelihoods and their physical safety. Whether you or I see or understand their fears in not the issue. Love, safety and service to our neighbor is.

Last Spring we in the Oregon Synod declared ourselves to be a Sanctuary Synod. We did this as misunderstanding and persecution of our Latino neighbors was ramping up under the Obama Administration. It seems possible that unrest and deportations will intensify with a Trump Administration. You have heard a call. Now is the right time to embrace it. The ELCA has resources with which you might education yourselves and become a “Welcoming Congregation.” Becoming a sanctuary congregation would be a deeper commitment yet. I will see that there are resources available for you on the synod website in the coming weeks and I encourage your collaboration and cooperation in this work.

The ELCA is currently in the process of delving deeply into the issues of Justice for Women. Now would be an opportune time to engage this question. Extending such a conversation with those in the the broader community around you would undoubtedly be most welcome in these days. Your church has resources to help you do precisely that.

I could write more here, but this is enough for now. We will continue to be in conversation as need and opportunity arises. However, in these days I give thanks, and want to remind you, who we are as Lutheran Christians:

•    We are, and always have been, committed to the care and safety of refugees and ‘aliens’ brought to us by God for food, shelter and a home. We will continue in this ministry.
•    We are, and always have been, committed to honoring people of all races, gender orientations, faiths and circumstances. We will continue to surround and stand with any who suffer persecution or abuse.
•    To my sisters in the faith, to those who mother; answer the call to ordained or consecrated ministry; teach; lead; administer; heal; imagine and agitate I say “Thank you!” You are due deep honor and respect
•    To younger leaders who live your faith; forgive and honor your elders; bravely engage the new and believe so intensely; I also say “Thank you!” We all need your insight and confidence even as you welcome and engage the traditions passed on to you.
•    As a church we have clear articulations about what it means to live and work in the public realmcare for God’s creationshape a just economy; and live together with civility and care. Our country and our world is always in need of such leadership and articulations. We will continue to be bold in our proclamation and service!

I encourage you to study together, pray together, worship as one and ‘gird your loins’ for action as the Spirit directs. I thank  Jesus it is well with our soul, but recognize that it is not always well with our world. What a blessing to be called and equipped for days like these.

With you in ministry,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod – ELCA

Post-election message from Bp. Elaine Stanovsky

November 10, 2016 | A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Stanovsky: In the Wake of the Election

During the two-year presidential campaign, tension built across our nation like it does as you wind up a jack-in-the-box. Then, SURPRISE, the polls closed and what seemed impossible had happened. Donald Trump was elected the next President of the United States. Half the country is elated beyond their wildest dreams. The other half is reeling in disbelief. Most of us on one side of the divide don’t know many people on the other side.
I’m less interested in what kind of president Donald Trump will be than in his election as a symptom of a grave illness in our nation.

Can it be in 21st century America, that many of us no longer have substantive conversations with anyone who isn’t very much like us in education, income and world view? Have we become separated, red from blue, without even realizing it until this most unexpected election?

More than twenty years ago, Robert Bellah described how Americans were adopting Habits of the Heart (the title of his 1985 book) that lead us to live in “lifestyle enclaves” of people who share our values. Once most Americans lived in families, in communities, in churches not of their own choosing. Relating to your neighbors, whether you liked them or not, was a given. Identity and community formed in relationships that were given by circumstance. Over time, industrialization and urbanization, military service, and increased mobility all loosened the ties to land and local community. Increasingly people chose who they related to. Increasingly we have chosen to relate to people like ourselves.

In our chosen “lifestyle enclaves,” we no longer mix it up with people who are different from ourselves. Rather, we limit our social relations to people who reinforce our preferences. Pretty soon we don’t even see or take account of people who aren’t like us. In 1985, Bellah couldn’t have anticipated the ways social media now makes relationships even more voluntary. Today, if you aren’t interested in the dinner conversation, you can take out your smart phone and join another conversation altogether, among people who may never sit at the same table.

Bellah and his associates noted that kinship, religious communities, civic traditions and friendship, are institutions that have held people in relationships not of their choosing. But today, all of these institutions are strained and adapting to quickly changing norms and many of the relationships that rely upon them have come significantly unstitched or changed radically.

What we learned on election night was just how far our alienation from one another has gone. We don’t even recognize each other as American’s any more: “He’s not my President.” “I’m moving to Canada.” 

Jesus Christ built community among people who were deeply divided from one another: Jews and Gentiles. Slaves and free. Women and men. He invited his followers to gather all kinds of people together, and help them grow to know and love one another. Jesus is calling us out of our lifestyle enclaves into human community, as surely as he called Lazarus out of the tomb.

How can the church become public again – involved in the public square; a place to talk with one another about what we really care about, what keeps us awake at night, and makes us worried for our children? A place where we turn together to the great mystery of life and love, to give thanks and to ask for mercy, forgiveness, and direction.

There is no better gift for our day than to tear down the dividing walls and invite unlikely conversations among people who think they have nothing in common.

In Ephesians, Paul wrote that Christ “proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.

May the prince of peace open a way of healing before us.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, UMC

Sermon: (Doubting) Thomas

Sunday 3 April 2016
The Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31

St_Thomas_icon-296x300Thomas. Doubting Thomas. That is how we always seem to remember him. When someone brings up the subject of Thomas, usually we don’t remember anything about him, except, or course, that he doubted.

In the three synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—Thomas only appears in the list of the twelve whom Jesus called. Like many of the other disciples, Thomas appears only as a member of the crowd. But in John’s gospel, Thomas plays a very important role. After Lazarus dies in chapter 11, Jesus decides to travel back to Judea to visit him. The disciples are afraid to have Jesus return Judea, because they know that he has already made too many enemies there. However, Thomas bravely tells his colleagues: “Let us go also, so that we can die with Jesus.”

Later, at the last supper, Thomas speaks again. When Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them, Thomas asks how they will know the way to follow him if they don’t know where he is going. Jesus responds that he, himself, is the way, the truth, and the life.

The story we read today is the third time that Thomas speaks in the gospel of John. And we always seem to remember him as the one and only disciple who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. He had to see for himself, whereas all the other disciples believed in Jesus’ resurrection without having seen.

Of course, that isn’t actually true. The other disciples had already heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus had risen and appeared to her, and there is no indication from John that any of the disciples believed her. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all quite emphatic that they did not believe Mary’s story.

So there the disciples are, on the evening of Easter, behind locked doors in some upstairs room, afraid to do anything. Even though the doors are locked, Jesus appears among them. Jesus speaks to them, and says, “Peace be with you.” And before anyone gets a chance to respond, Jesus immediately shows them his wounds so that they will have proof that it is really him.  Before he disappears, Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending them out. They are to leave that locked room and start sharing God’s love in the world. But a week later, they are all still gathered there in that locked room.

So, just to be clear, all of the disciples of Jesus, except for Thomas, get to see the risen Christ, get to see his wounds before they believe that he is raised. And even after they have seen the risen Jesus, they don’t follow his directions to go out into the world. They stay cowering behind locked doors. This is not exactly an overwhelming show of belief and faith.

When they tell Thomas what they have seen, Thomas doesn’t believe them. But this isn’t terribly surprising, since they hadn’t believed what Mary had reported to them about Jesus rising. Thomas doesn’t believe before he sees, but neither does anyone else in the story. Mary doesn’t, the other disciples don’t, and Thomas doesn’t. So when Jesus says, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing,” he isn’t talking about anyone else in the story. So who is he talking about? If this were a television show, then this is the moment when Jesus would break the fourth wall, look directly into the camera, and speak to the viewers at home, “Blessed are you who don’t see and yet believe.” Jesus isn’t speaking to anyone in the room; he’s speaking to future Christians, who will be forced to believe based on the testimony of others.

Now, that’s about all we hear about Thomas in the bible. He appears again in the added scene in John when the disciples encounter Jesus along the shore in Galilee when they are out fishing. John tells us more than once that he is known as “the Twin,” but we are never told whose twin he is.

But there are other early Christian sources that tell us more about the story of Thomas. According to multiple ancient accounts, Thomas became an apostle to the east. It is believed that he travelled to India in the years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, founding churches and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. When Marco Polo travelled through Sri Lanka and India, he found native Christians there, Christians who traced their lineage back to St. Thomas. Again, when Portuguese colonists and traders established sea routes to India, they found native churches there, reading the bible and worshipping in Syriac. According to legend, Thomas founded several churches in India and was martyred there. A church in Mylapore reports to contain the tomb of the apostle. Thomas is the patron saint of India, and there are still Indian Christians today who believe themselves to be part of an unbroken tradition that goes back to Thomas.

I suggest to you today that is time that we stop doubting Thomas. It is time that we stop remembering him as a second-class apostle. Yes, Thomas refused to believe until he had seen some evidence, but so did all of the other early disciples. Yes, Thomas asked questions and wanted to know more. But it is often through our questions, through our doubting and our puzzling that our faith is made to grow stronger. A faith that never questions anything is not a very mature faith, not a faith that is capable of sustaining through trials and tribulations. Thomas may have questioned, but his questions led to one of the most powerful statements of faith contained in the Gospel of John. “My Lord and my God,” Thomas confesses the moment he sees the risen Christ. Not one other of Jesus’ male disciples has a statement of faith so clear as Thomas’s statement here.  Not Peter, not James, not John. Of all of the Twelve, it is Thomas who is portrayed as understanding the best who Jesus is. His questions did not lead to a lack of faith. His questions led to a stronger faith.

And that is an example we can learn from. It is sometimes suggested that Christians should never question anything that we have been taught about the faith. We should just believe unchangingly everything that we were taught in second grade Sunday school just as we were taught it. It is suggested that if we were to question our faith, then we would lose it.

But I suggest to you today that is only a very weak faith that can’t stand up to a little questioning. If we never question things, then we never learn, we never grow, we never mature. Thomas questioned things. But his questions led him to be the brave disciple who convinced the others to follow Jesus to the cross, even if it meant they might die with him. His questions led to a greater understanding of Jesus’ nature as the way, the truth, and the life. His questions led to his bold proclamation of Jesus’ identity: “My Lord and my God.” And if the stories are to be believed, his questions led him to spread the Gospel of Jesus farther than any other of the first disciples, all the way to the shores of India. We can learn something from Thomas. And may we be bold enough in our questions and in our doubts that we are strengthened in faith, like Thomas, and empowered to share Christ’s love with the world Christ came to save. Amen.


++  This Sunday, March 20, after the second service we will have an opportunity to meet with 2 financial experts from the ELCA and Synod Endowment Board. Beth Adams, from the ELCA, and Bonny Groshound, from the synod endowment board will be here to talk with the board and finance committee members about strategies to wisely manage and invest the money from the combination of Asbury and ORLC. Anyone from the congregation who is interested is welcome to attend.  Bonnie can also offer information about grants that are available from the synod. The meeting will be from 11:45am -1 pm.

Please let me know if you will be attending so I can have a light lunch available for you.  If you are on the board or finance committee also please let me know if you are unable to attend.                                Debby Chenoweth

++ The next Women’s Spiritual Group session is April 2 at 9:00am in the church office building.

++ Men’s Fellowship Group     Sausage making this Saturday March 19th at 9am

 Hosted by Audrey and Myrin Bentz. Coffee and Pastry will be served in the morning, as well as lunch later on.

Cost for sausage: Per Pound To Be Advised.  Donation’s appreciated. Contact: Bob White via email: goirishcream@embarqmail.com

Some sausage will be served at the Easter Breakfast.

++  Men’s Retreat at Morning Song Acres! March 31 – April 2, 2016! The annual spring retreat  will use a DVD by Rev. Adam Hamilton, “Christianity and World Religions: Wrestling with Questions People Ask” as the basis for the three day study. It will give us an open minded perspective on the world’s religions to enhance our discussions and our spiritual lives. See Marv Turner, Bob White, Myrin Bentz, or Rick McBee to sign up and get involved.

++  Photographs for our Church Directory    Easter Sunday—starting at 8:30am and through the Easter Breakfast time, Gordon Leigh’s Positive Negatives will be taking pictures for the church directory. This is a no cost service, so come dressed for Easter and your pictures! If you would like prints for yourself, price information will be available for that additional service. Come and enjoy the services, the breakfast, and let’s get as many photos done as possible for our new directory.                 —-Rick McBee

++ We are using  Ecopalms for Palm Sunday again this year! 

Why a “Fair Trade” Palm?

Gatherers will receive a higher price for their “fair trade” palms improving their income and living conditions. “Fair trade” helps protect the palms and  the important forests from which they are gathered through sustainable harvest programs.

Jennifer Fowler