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.

Homecoming Thoughts

Gray Rock UMCI sat in the pew and watched the Youth Choir of Gray Rock UMC stand in front of their microphones and sing a praise song immediately before I was to get up and preach. I listened to the beautiful harmonies they made. I watched as the young woman directing them smiled as she led and I was transported back almost twenty years…

The Gray Rock Youth choir was singing for a Maundy Thursday service. The director I had just been watching was one of the singers and this group was being led by her mother – a second generation member of the church who was married to a fifth generation member of the congregation. They had history. When the youth were singing in the 90’s, I was listening closely to the words – “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord…” and I was thinking about what I was going to do next.

Earlier in the week, the director and I had a little “clash” over when the youth should sing. I wanted it during communion. She wanted it before communion. She wasn’t mean about it at all…just firm. But it was also a clash that made me feel so disconnected from this group of worshipers that I decided then and there that I would not partake of communion with them again. I would pray for the elements. I would serve them. But I was NOT going to share with them. We just did not see things the same way and I knew that this was the only way I had of separating myself from them. Perhaps, just perhaps, if I could get the director to see things my way, it would be different. But this was a battle I would not win.

And I thank God for that.

I listened to them sing those words and my heart was strangely warmed. Not heartburn. Not conversion. But it was warmed with conviction. I heard Jesus saying to me: “I love these people just the way that they are. Who do you think you are to find yourself better than them…righter than them…separated from them. I love them and I love you.”

When the song was over, I walked to the communion table, said a prayer of Great Thanksgiving and served the youth choir director. With tears in my eyes, I asked her to serve me. She did.

Even then, I didn’t know how profound a moment this was but over time it has taught me that there is probably a much greater concentration of grace in the pews of any church than I will ever find behind the pulpit on any given day.

When I found myself back in the moment of 2014 and watched the new director smiling as her daughter sat beside her and a cousin (or two) sang in the choir I was overwhelmed with a feeling of connection. Not my own connection, mind you, but the connection that these generations of people could count on to share the gospel, build the faith, and be the Kingdom. I was teary again when I walked into the pulpit. I was overwhelmed with happiness for them at the moment but I was also filled with quite a bit of jealousy.

I am an itinerant United Methodist Elder. I live in a home provided by a church congregation and I serve congregations at the will and pleasure of my Bishop. I actually have very little to complain about in this regard. The congregations that I have served have been loving and accepting of me and my family and they have challenged me to grow in my faith and in my calling. I love the life of a United Methodist pastor.

However, every once in a while, my heart longs for something that it has trouble naming.

I found the name for this on, October 28, as I stood among the people of Gray Rock UMC and proclaimed God’s word for their 160th Homecoming Celebration.

I served Gray Rock (along with Bethel UMC) while I was a student at Duke Divinity School. Churches that have the courage to accept a student pastor into their midst have a special place in God’s Kingdom. Student pastors are constantly being shaped and changed by the theological education that they are undertaking. I was NOT an exception to the rule. From the story above I think I could make a case for becoming the 1990’s poster child! There were weeks when everything that I learned in school that week came regurgitating out of my mouth in something that I would call a sermon. And my leadership decisions…well, we will let the one above speak for itself.

The word I found as I walked into that pulpit for the first time in twenty years was connection. They had it each and every week when they gathered. I did not. I was the outsider, sent by the Bishop, connected by an appointment but not connected by generation after generation.

However, as I preached about Paul’s love for the Church in Philippi that morning and remembered, with no hint of sarcasm, the true love that I have for this little church in Kittrell, North Carolina, and as I looked at the proud – yes, proud eyes of the congregation watching this preacher who had continued on in the journey for twenty years, I was suddenly more than just an itinerant preacher. I was part of their family. I was connected.

And I thank God for that. I thank God for that.

It was a beautiful day…conversations after that were wonderful. The food was even better than I remembered. The walk through the grave yard reminiscing about people who had gone on to their reward was bittersweet.

I stood for a moment by myself at the grace of the last person I helped bury at Gray Rock. I thought of the family she left behind. I thought of the grace with which she faced her death. I thought of the grace I saw being lived out in her husband, his new wife and all their children.

My God…was I blessed to have been a part of that church twenty years ago and even more blessed to have been a part of it this year.

Gray Rock UMC…I thank God for you everyday in my prayers! You taught me grace. You taught me love. You taught me!

Yeah…an “enemy!”

Matthew 13 – Thoughts and Reflections for the Lectionary Reading for Sunday, July 20, 2014

“An enemy, my eye!” the Rev. (now Bishop) Will Willimon said in his sermon on this passage during a worship service at the NC Annual Conference.

I remembered being struck with the audacity of his statement. Surely, he has read the passage and knows that Jesus says “an enemy has done this!” But then he went on to explain that the joke could be missed by us.

Enemies hurl insults at one another in an effort to start a fight.

Enemies attack with swords and guns and fists.

Enemies burn down perfectly good fields.

Enemies don’t mix weeds in with good seed. No one needs an enemy to do that. Simply look in the mirror. I don’t consider myself my own worst enemy and yet, and yet, I must admit that there is some evil in me. But did an enemy put that there? Honestly, no. I put it there myself…thought I had it hidden…but it seems to grow at the same rate as everything else in my life.

I don’t need no stinking enemies to choke out the good in me. I’m good enough at it myself.

But the preacher went one to say something about the offer to pull up the weeds. He said “Let them grow…I like to watch things grow. And when it’s over I will take care of the weeds.

Sometimes I would see this “taking care of the weeds as some final revenge on the evil that is in me and the evil that is in our world.

But then I really heard what the preacher said. The one who liked to watch things grow…the one who would tolerate wheat and weed together…this is the one who was going to care for the weeds at the end.

The jokes on me. I want the grace to grow but I want my enemies to suffer and die – especially those that are within me. But this farmer, this Kingdom builder, seems to have a different agenda.

Just let it grow. I will take care of it.

I think I’ve met this farmer. Every once in a while he tells me to take up a loaf of bread and say, “This is my body broken for you.” He has called me to a table and asked me to lift up a cup and say, “This is my blood, shed for you.”

This farmer gives everything for everything that grows in his field. A body on a cross. Blood dripping on the loved ones gathered below as well as the soldiers keeping guard.

God, this farmer loves mysteries.

And I am thankful. For in some way, we are all a mystery and this world…well, it’s either a mystery or a damned mystery. Take your pick.

Yet somehow, I think this farmer loves it.