I walked into the United Methodist Church building where I have served as pastor for the past three years. It was quiet. Of course, it should have been quiet. It was “Conference Sunday” and everyone knew that the pastor was away and there were no evening activities scheduled.
It was a wonderful Annual Conference session. I watched my daughter Erin become a delegate to General Conference in 2016. I took a bit of pride in that – but I thanked God, the one I knew had really blessed her with the gifts that led to that moment. I am just blessed to be her father.
I attended wonderful worship sessions and business sessions that for the most part were filled with holy conversation. Yes, there was a moment or two when people forgot to respect their sisters and brothers as they spoke. There was a particularly painful moment when one of our youth tried to share her faith in the Bible and our need to at least attempt to hear those sacred words the way she hears them. But many good Christians forgot to listen as Christ would and mumbled angrily as she spoke. Lesser things have created great prophets, so I will continue to pray for this brave young woman.
I participated in a service of anointing on Saturday night that reminded me once again just how broken we as Christians really are in this world. We need the Balm of Gilead. We need the healing presence of Christ. We. Need. So. Much.
I wept during the ordination service as I watched five wonderful pastors be ordained. For the past three years I had the honor and the joy of sharing in a covenant group with these five and one more who decided to wait a year for ordination examination. I don’t know why I wept – it was a mixture a joy, hope, and fear – but I do know that a perfectly good stole became a handkerchief for my snotty nose.
I listened with quite a bit of joy on the way home as my youngest daughter quizzed me on parliamentary procedure, rules, and the United Methodist Discipline. Our drive from Conference took more than two hours, but there wasn’t a quiet moment. I was a bit gleeful that she shares some of my love for these tricky little procedures that give us order.
There was a whole lot of joy this week.
And then…after we had been home a little while, my wife and I walked into the “Conference Sunday” quiet church. We gathered a box and she set about taking her personal things out of her office at the church.
On Friday, our Conference debated and passed a petition to General Conference that would change our Discipline to prohibit any member of a pastor’s household from holding a financial office in the church. This was passed in a hope of providing protection to pastors and their spouses of even the “appearance of impropriety.” Yes, I know that this legislation has a long road to make it into our Discipline, but I also listened closely to the voices that were shared during the debate. The voices in support were loud and clear and the favorable vote stated that our Conference did not want our pastor’s and spouses open to this “appearance of impropriety.”
On the other hand, First UMC Princeton had worked so hard to make this a safe place for my spouse to use her gifts. (And she is so very gifted at what she does!) She never touched money – only offering envelopes that had been checked by two (or more) non-related persons and the amounts included written on them. She balanced the counters work with the deposit slips they gave her. She printed out electronic checks after receiving vouchers from authorized persons. She would call check signers – none of these persons were counters – to come and check the validity of the vouchers and sign the checks. She would balance the books and print reports as we needed them. And then, every month, yet another person would come in and audit those books and accounts. First UMC put in processes that kept this gifted woman safe from accusation. But nothing can protect her from “appearances”.
Appearances, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder.
It wasn’t as quiet when we left the church that evening. There were tears. There was sadness. There was the rattling of coffee mugs and a bowl she often used to fix oatmeal for lunch.
This is all part of the mystery I have grown to know as Christ’s Church: It will build you up and it will pull the rug out of from under your feet.
I am just thankful, that underneath it all, under the mountain top experiences and under the roughly tugged rugs there is a God who is greater than even the Church we make in his name. I know God loves this Church, because God loves me, an imperfect person in an equally imperfect group of people.
I go on because I choose to behold this: Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves us.