Clergy School 2015 – An Interview with Our Preacher

The West Virginia Annual Conference sponsors an annual continuing education event for Clergy. This year our event will be from October 13 – 15 at Blessed John XXIII Pastoral Retreat Center in Charleston. A link for registration is right here.

In order to introduce you to one of our primary speakers – our preacher for the event – I have done an email interview with Rev. Tim Craig. Please use this to get to know our preacher a little better and keep him in your prayers as he prepares to bring us God’s Word for this event.

 

Scott: “Tim, tell us a little bit about yourself – your background, your family, your work history, and even some of the things that you do that make your unique?”

Tim and Ann CraigTim: I grew up in an Irish Roman Catholic family and attended Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. It was there at Loyola that I started to feel a call into the ministry. But at the same time I wanted to get married and have a family … things you can’t do or have as a priest. When I talked with a priest, he recommended that I look into other denominations. That was a real gift from that priest.

I attended a United Methodist Church and felt right at home. What sealed the deal for me was when the pastor said that the communion table was open to everyone and not just members.

I met my wife Ann through mission work. We both served in youth ministry.

Ann and I have four kids; three daughters and one son. I have three in college. My son and my youngest daughter go to VA Tech. My middle daughter is at George Mason University. My oldest daughter graduated from Mason and now works as a Program Director at Wesley UMC. Ann is a first grade teacher. We have been married for 25 years.

After college I taught high school algebra for a few years. I went into the business sector for a few more years and worked for ADP (Payroll Services). I started seminary (Duke Divinity) in 1991. I was a student pastor while in seminary. I served an “eventful” two-point charge in southern Virginia. From there I served as an associate pastor of a large church in Richmond. From there I went to serve a mid- sized congregation. After only two years in that appointment I was appointed to a church in Northern Virginia that had significant conflict. I stayed there for eight years. The church worked through the challenges and turned itself around. I was then appointed to serve a large church in Arlington, Virginia. After five years of ministry in the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan DC area, I am now serving Great Bridge UMC in Chesapeake, VA.

I love the Chesapeake area. It is much slower paced and I am 30 minutes from the beach. My family and I love the beach. We go to relax, fly stunt kites, collect shells, walk, and hang out with friends. The beach truly rejuvenates my soul.

I love music and I love being around people. Love Jesus with everything I have.

A few years ago, I was inspired by Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey’s work with Gallup Strength Finder. She uses the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test to help you see your strengths in ministry. My top five strengths are: Connectedness, Positivity, ideations, Achiever, and Adaptability.    

 

Scott: “How much do you know about West Virginia? (You can be honest…as long as you don’t say that you didn’t realize it was a separate state!)”

Tim: Well … I know some. Great Bridge UMC takes about 2 to 3 mission trips to Iaeger, West Virginia every year. I’ve been on two trips so far. We work with Little Sparrows Ministry. I even attended the McDowell County fair last year. I ate fried oreos! Quite a treat.  

Scott: “If I am not mistaken, you are the one who introduced my family to Bar-B-Que Oreos…I still have the mouth burns to prove it, actually! Glad you picked on the Southern WV Oreo tradition!

I also understand that you were a recent participant in the Royce and Jane Reynolds Program for Church Leadership in North Carolina. What was that experience like and what was your main take-a-way?

Tim: I attended the Royce and Jane Reynolds Program for Church Leadership. It is a great program sponsored through the Western North Carolina Conference and taught through the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The program is two part. The first part consists of developing one’s leadership potential. The second part focuses on leadership needed in the local church.

My main take-a-way was the need to really focus on and develop clarity around mission/ vision and core values. We find ourselves stuck in maintenance mode so many times because we overlook these things in the local church. Busyness is often the culprit.

If your conference ever gets chance to work with Russ Moxley or Janice Virtue from the Center for Creative Leadership, I highly recommend it. I know the Virginia Conference has put together a leadership program with Russ. It is in year two. Participants from last year really enjoyed it and learned a lot. (Tim Tate took the program last year. He would be a good point of contact too.)

 

Scott: What have been some of your formational moments in building relationships with people who have greatly different theological positions than you hold? How is that going to be helpful to you as you prepare?

Tim: I have to tell a story to answer this one. My mother and father divorced when I was young. My father and I were not close. He was a strict Roman Catholic. I know. I know. Divorce and strict Roman Catholic do not go together on paper. Then there is life.

Both my mom and father remarried. My father and his wife had more children.

My mom would call my father when I needed some fatherly chastising. When I left the Roman Catholic Church to unite with the United Methodist Church, my mom called my father. We talked and the last words that he said to me where these, “You are no longer my son.”

My father died of pancreatic cancer. When he was passing he said to his children, “Tell Tim I love him too.” They had no idea who Tim was and so my oldest brother began to ask questions and started searching.

A few years after my father’s death, my brother tracked me down. We met and I now have 5 new siblings as well as a mother-in-law.

My father’s last words were not “you are no longer my son”; they were words of love. And that is the theological position that is by far the greatest and the one that is formational and foundational for me.

It is tested often but love is the greatest and love conquers all.

A few years ago, Westboro Baptist Church came to picket the congregation I was serving because we had a woman pastor. In response, we changed the preaching schedule around and she preached on the Sunday that they came to picket. We had record attendance that Sunday. While they shouted obscenities filled with hate, we responded with love. It was a great day. The headline from the newspaper that covered the event stated “love drowned out the hate message”. Amen to that!

 

Scott: As you know, the theme for this year’s Clergy School is “Passing the Bread, Keeping the Peace” – a reference to the times that we live in as United Methodists. There is a lot of division and much of that division is centered on the church’s policies and practices concerning LGBT issues – same-sex marriage, ordination, membership, and full inclusion are all being discussed quite a bit. As the preacher for this event, what do you hope to bring to the pulpit that would help those of us who are on very different sides of these issues to maintain a “common Table?”

Tim: The writer of Hebrews once sermonized, “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace.” (Hebrews 12: 15) Whatever the side we take this needs to be who we are. Period. And this becomes even more important to us as United Methodists who believe that God’s grace is prevenient, justifying and sanctifying.

Grace is where I see hope. Always have and always will. While homosexuality is the hot topic sin of the day, I am sure that it isn’t the only sexual sin that is out there. And for that matter, I am sure that it isn’t the only sin that is out there. Of course someone is going to read this and say “he just called homosexuality a sin” and that’s not the point that I am making. If you see homosexuality as a sin then I have to ask; what are doing to make sure that these children of God do not miss out on the grace of God? Are you willing to have a heart like Christ that from the cross proclaims “Father forgive them”? If you see homosexuality as not a sin, can you offer grace to those who have been taught by the Church for centuries that it is? Can you come alongside these folk and have honest conversation without being equally judgmental toward their position?  

In a nutshell, what I hope to bring to the pulpit is a reminder of the importance and power of grace and that this grace is what is needed for both sides as we come to the common table.

 

Scott: If you could recommend a book in the Bible for participants to read in preparation for this Clergy School, which one would it be?

Tim: I would recommend that you read the gospels. I know you asked for one book but read all four of the gospels. In addition, read them in such a way that the words about Jesus live for a purpose other than preparing a sermon! We get so used to reading the Bible for sermons; I think it is important to read the Bible from time to time as God’s story.

 

Scott: If you could recommend a non-biblical book to be read – which one would it be?

Tim: Wow- this is a tough one! I read a lot. I think for the topic of grace I would read Phillip Yancey’s “Vanishing Grace.” For leadership principles I would ready Ron Heifetz’s “Leadership on the Line” or Russ Moxley’s “Leadership and Spirit.”

Scott: Tim, thanks for taking time out of your schedule to share with us! I’m sure this will help everyone prepare for our time together. I will take your suggestions about the Bible reading seriously and will look into the leadership books as well.

Once again, you can register for this year’s Clergy School right here. We look forward to seeing as many WV Clergy there to welcome our Virginia colleague!!

Scott: Oh, one more question: How do you feel about a back-to-back championship for the Blue Devils this year?

Tim: Do you have your final four tickets yet? If you are a Duke fan, I would start booking now. And somewhat prophetic to the theme of the clergy school, if the new recruits play together as a team, it will be another championship for coach K.

Confessions of a Clergy School Holdout

I sat in the back of the room, the wall directly behind me and the exit about three chairs away. Sure, I would have to shimmy past three other pastors sitting in the room if I decided on an early exit, but it was only three and I was almost certain we didn’t know one another.

The speaker’s name and topic are lost to me now. Perhaps it was because I didn’t attend the session with any hope of learning. Perhaps it was because the speaker was really boring. More than likely, though, it was because I did not believe I needed to be there at all. Continuing education offered by the annual conference? It had not been more than three years since I had completed three years of Residency and felt I had more than enough “Conference directed education” during that time. I figured the best CE events had to be “out there” somewhere, anywhere but in my own back yard.

I was a Clergy School Holdout.

In September 2012 I attended the West Virginia Annual Conference Clergy School as the incoming “Dean” of the school. How did that happen? I’m still not sure. I am humbled and honored to be serving in this capacity – much more humbled than honored, I would add. More than that, I was really turned around, so to speak, by attending the school in 2012 and experiencing just how wrong I was about our Clergy School.

I heard three very speakers approach the topic of “Healing” in very divergent ways. I felt myself arguing with some of what they had to say. I found myself nodding in agreement with other things. I found myself engaged with a topic I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about since, well, since days I was involved in the Lay Witness Weekend ministry.

More than that, I found myself sharing a space with some pretty incredible people. Colleagues that I had known for years and didn’t get to spend much time with were sitting with me in the sessions. During short breaks, we would catch up. (Admittedly, during boring times in the presentations, we would text!) When we took the longer breaks, I would talk with other colleagues and hear incredible, sometimes heart-breaking stories about ministry and families. Other times, my spirit would be lifted up as a colleague would share that they had been praying for me in my new ministry setting. One time, during a meal in the cafeteria, I witnessed a heated discussion between two people I thought never disagreed. I cannot stress the “heatedness” of their discussion. But then I watched in amazement as God’s Spirit poured out between them in the midst of their differences and they walked away laughing like two co-conspirators in a crime of grace.

During the long Wednesday afternoon “free time” I found myself sitting and sharing stories with a colleague. The minutes piled up and the time slipped away. At some point I remembered that I was angry with this person – but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the exact reason why that was so.

I found myself carried away during worship. I found myself letting go of pre-conceived notions about what we could offer as Continuing Education in West Virginia. I found that I had attended a continuing education event hoping to learn something, anything about healing ministries in the local church and I was healed in the process.

I am no longer a Clergy School Holdout.

Yes, it is a continuing education event. Yes, it is a gathering of clergy – local pastors, elders and deacons – from across the WV Annual Conference. But it is so much more. It is an opportunity to allow the Spirit to revive something essential as I take a break from the sometimes heart-numbing tasks and art of being a clergyperson.

Of course, this year our Clergy School is about “Ministering Across Economic and Cultural Boundaries.” I couldn’t tell you what to exactly expect in what you will learn, hear and see. It will be different than last year and 2014 promises even more changes, I am sure. Yet in the heart of exploring where the Spirit of God might take us, I am encouraging myself to allow them to happen. (One promise I have made to myself and others though is that the Free Time period will NOT get used for anything else!!)

But I can tell you this – even if I were not somehow involved in the Clergy School, I would no longer holdout on attending. I would attend simply because by opening myself up to learning, I found God ready to give me so much more.

I am no longer a Clergy School Holdout…and I am glad.

You can register online until Thursday, September 13th AND as always, you can still register at the door. Visit http://www.wvumc.org/calendar/clergy-school to learn more and register.

There’s No Place Like…

A Whirlwind

And so it happened. They were walking along and talking. Suddenly a chariot and horses of fire came between them and Elijah went up in a whirlwind to heaven.
2 Kings 2:11 The Message

The past seven days have been something of a whirlwind for me.  I haven’t really had much time to take a breath and seriously think about it but I know that in the midst of this latest busy trek on the path to home, I have experienced the very presence of God.

I knew that presence as I sat next to a colleague who just six months ago gave me some of the greatest words of support and encouragement that I have ever received.  I still carry that note with me and it will always bring me joy!

I knew that presence as I sat at lunch with a colleague who has prayed for me and my family during a time of transition…One who calls me “Scottie” and gets away with it…Who insists on hugs every time we meet and I don’t mind a bit.

I knew that presence as I sat in continuing education sessions with a colleague who has supported me in a Covenant Group for several years with prayer, encouragement and accountability.  He is one who knows my sense of humor and appreciates it always.

I knew that presence when I ate dinner with a colleague who helped my daughter through a very special time in her life and we shared with each other about our “other” homes.  I know that I will be praying for him and his girls even as he prays for me and mine.

I knew that presence as I worshiped with clergy from all over the West Virginia Annual Conference at Cedar Lakes and felt their affirmation as I stepped into a new role and a new place I will call one of my homes.

I knew that presence as I met with my Clergy Covenant Group at the best place in West Virginia to enjoy crab cakes – Crabby Patti’s in Ripley – and we shared our joys, our worries, our hopes, our struggles and our dreams in the midst of much change in our Conference “home.”  I know I am praying for them, but probably not as much as they are praying for me. And yet I know they still love me.

I knew that presence as I ate dinner with my Mom and Dad, and Mom’s Aunt and Uncle and then visited with them even more that evening and the next morning.  I heard stories I had not heard before and heard others that triggered memories long ago set aside as we shared about family.  I felt connected to generation after generation of my family and I felt the presence of God.

I knew that presence as I shared a lunch with a friend who I not only still trust with my health care but is one that anyone can trust.  It was great to spend time with one of God’s healers who is still humble enough to live into their humanity.

I felt that presence as I was reunited with my family after a few days away – laughter, stories and great donuts made for good times!  “Friday Night Lights” with the Princeton Tigers and their wonderful band and a fifth quarter at the church that went on till Saturday.  (A soft bed made for a good night’s sleep as well.)

I felt that presence in the moments – that came quite often – when I thanked God for the great staff members who were caring for everything at First Princeton UMC.

I felt that presence as I worshiped with my newest church family and felt their grace, prayers and support after a long week.

I felt that presence as I watched the churches of the Princeton Parish (UMC) unite with community members of Princeton to serve those around us by cleaning up two local parks and a fountain area downtown.

Ah…the whirlwind…I felt it.  And even though I know these recollections don’t come close to naming every moment I felt it, I know that it is carrying me closer and closer to home.

photo credit: *nacnud* via photopin cc