Sunday, January 24, 2010
Getting ready for preaching today meant reading and preaching from a Lukan text telling about Jesus' first foray into his preaching ministry. From the Jordan to the wilderness to Galilee and the synagogue He went. It set me to thinking about my first preaching foray. My partner was Harold Lumley, a friend and fellow ministerial student at Young Harris College. During our second year we were provided an opportunity to preach in the mountains of western North Carolina. A Methodist preacher was appointed to an eight point charge in the Western North Carolina Conference and looked to the college for some student help in preaching. Every Sunday morning we left the campus and made our way up toward Murphy, NC to preach. We alternated Sundays which gave us more time to prepare.
One of the churches was Peachtree Methodist (no comparison to the one in Atlanta). Also, included in our rotating preaching schedule was the Bellview Methodist Church and Reid's Chapel. Those folks in those small rural mountain churches surely suffered through a lot of bad preaching as we tried to do our best, but they never were anything but gracious and kind to both of us. One thing I always remember is the music. Harold was an accomplished pianist, but the church normally had their own. One of the churches had a pianist who could only play I Am Thine, O Lord and Victory in Jesus so whenever we went to that church, those were our hymns!
So many small mostly rural churches have been the training ground for a lot of Methodist preachers. Some even speak of it as a ministry given to them by God. Certainly, I am grateful for those that have been a part of my life. My journey of faith would have been diminished without the opportunity to share with those good folks who model for green preachers extraordinary love and patience.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
While visiting Talbotton memories, I found myself thinking about it as the town with an overabundance of characters. Some places are blessed in such ways. So, I found myself remembering "Little Brother" who towered over us all while walking and who flew over us all with the town's only airplane. Mr. Thomas was a courthouse fixture who gave two dollar bills to children at Christmas and who was such a character that his funeral was constantly being punctuated with laughter by those who remembered him. But, the most memorable character was Felder Spivey.
He operated and owned a general store on the courthouse square that had so much stuff that aisles were an afterthought. If it was not in his store, you probably did not need it. When I made my Friday afternoon visit through the stores in town, I always enjoyed seeing Felder. In his earlier days he had been in law enforcement and was mentioned in the book "Murder in Coweta County." As a carry over from those days, he still wore his holstered pistol.
But, Felder's great passion in life was his wife, Libba. When I went in the store, he would often read me a love poem he had written for her. She was an invalid during my Talbotton years, but she never seemed to lack for attention from her doting husband. After she died, Felder would go out to the cemetery late in the afternoon and play his trumpet over her grave. A stranger might not have understood, but those of us who knew about Felder and Libba just smiled and hoped that one day someone would care enough to blow a trumpet over us.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Awhile back, I started writing some about churches to which I have been appointed. After the three point Stapleton Charge (three chuches: Stapleton, Bethel, and Zoar) and Tennille, I was appointed to the west Georgia county seat town of Talbotton. Most folks mis-pronounce it. Try "Tall-but-ton" without a southern drawl and you are likely to get closer than most of those who pass through and take a guess at the right way to say it! Actually, there was another church attached to the Talbotton Church, but a retired preacher, Brother Sam, took care of it the four years I was there.
The church was not a big congregation. As memory serves me in these days, it seemed like good Sundays had 75 or so sitting in the pews. Established in 1828 with the Sanctuary being built in 1852, or there about, I was around when the sesquicentennial celebration of the church was held. The big word a few back just means 150. It was a small enough place that I got to know most everyone in town as well as to be known as the Methodist preacher by most of the people in the community.
While some young preachers might want to shun a place like Talbotton, it is the kind of place any young preacher should hope for, particularly, in the beginning days of ministry. There was plenty of work to do, but not so much that it was overwhelming. Being the preacher at Talbotton was like being the General Practitioner instead of the medical specialist. The church provided an opportunity to interact with folks in all sorts of different circumstances. The church family was very much like a family. Folks knew each other, about each other, and still cared for each other. Every starting out preacher should be so fortunate as to have a stop like Talbotton on their list of places served.
Monday, January 11, 2010
As soon as I stood up to speak, I noticed Roy. Whenever I preach at the Sunday afternoon worship service at Magnolia Manor, a United Methodist Retirement Center here in Richmond Hill, the men stand out because they are always in the minority. As is the case in most older adult communities, the women greatly outnumber the men. Out of the 25 or so folks worshipping at one these services at the Manor, there are likely to be 4 or 5 men. When I started preaching I saw Roy sitting behind the back pew in his motorized chair. When I finished my sermon, I sat down right in front of Roy. The closing hymn was announced. Even though I had just finished preaching about the wise men from the East, the closing hymn was "He Lives."When we got to the chorus, this strong bass voice sounded from behind me. "He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!" It was so strong I just stopped to listen. Each time we came to the chorus, I ceased singing and listened to the passionate singing of this man who obviously knew about Jesus living in his heart!
It was the highlight of my Sunday. His voice resonated all around as his testimony of faith in Jesus. After the singing was over, I caught up with Roy and told him, "You must have sung in some church choirs along the way." Of course, he had. I did not need him to tell me it was so, but he seemed to enjoy telling me about some of the places where he did.
I do not imagine Roy figured upon leaving his apartment last Sunday afternoon that his voice and his presence would be used by God to provide an act of ministry to another. Seldom do any of us leave home thinking that we are only a few moments away from being used by God to touch another person's life. I am grateful Roy made the effort to go to Vespers. God used him to inspire and encourage this Methodist preacher at the end of a long and tiring day.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Last Sunday's sermon was worth $11,000. Well....almost. Actually, nine more dollars was needed to make it to $11,000, but it is close enough for me. Our Conference Asking goal for 2009 was just a shade over $127,000. Conference Askings represent that part of the church's giving commitment which support ministries beyond the local church. For several years the church here has come up short in reaching the goal of 100%, but this year we struggled, gave, and found ourselves about $21,000 short at the end of the year. So, I preached this sermon which ended with an invitation to give to a second offering that would go toward this part of the church's ministry. People got excited and $11,000 showed up in the offering plate. With that kind of response, the Finance Committee made sure we had the rest. It was a great day.
I felt really good about what we had done. I put my sermon away, thinking, "Here is an $11,000 sermon! Don't preach many of them." As I was basking in it all, I saw this article about Rick Warren. He is known as the "Purpose Given Church" guy out in California. It seems his church was having some financial woes as well. He wrote a letter asking for $990,000 from the congregation and got $2.4 million! It took a little of the air out of the ego balloon I was starting to inflate!
But, the truth is still the same whether we are talking about $11,000 or $990,000. God can still be counted on to provide what is needed for His church. Maybe a problem bigger than the economic downturn is the lack of faith which keeps us from ever really asking with expectation in the first place.