Friday, February 22, 2013

Lesson from Les Miserables

by Rev. Felicia Fox

When we look at the world’s problems it is easy to feel over whelmed. How can one person stop world hunger, human trafficking, or any other injustice? The answer is you can’t. No one person has the power to change the world. However, each of us has the power to change one person’s life and that may cause the world to change. I was reminded of that lesson when I saw Les Miserables.

The story focuses on Jean Valjean who was imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister’s child. Once jailed he makes a failed attempt to escape and then spends the next nineteen years in prison. After he is paroled he is found by a Bishop and offered food and shelter for the night. Valjean steals his silver and is quickly caught. When the Bishop is asked about the silver he reports the silver was a gift and gives Valjean the best of his silver. This act of grace and generosity changes Valjean’s life and he takes the silver and changes his life.

The Bishop gave Valjean something more important than silver. He gave him forgiveness, love, and dignity. The bishop changed his life because he took the time to care and treat him with respect. He gave him a second chance. The Bishop didn’t change the whole world. Injustices still raged around him. However, he did change one life. Imagine the difference each of us could make if we begin to love everyone we encounter and treat them with respect and dignity. The bishop saw past Valjean’s present circumstances and saw his true value as a man.

The story moves forward eight years and finds Valjean as a factory owner and mayor. His foreman fires Fantine who is working to support her illegitimate daughter. Cosette, the daughter lives with an innkeeper and his wife. Fantine becomes a prostitute in order to support Cosette. Valjean saves Fantine from an attacker and takes her to the hospital where she dies. In the process she tells him about Cosette and he vows to raise the child.

Fantine did everything in her power to support her daughter. She loved Cosette with a selfless love. That loved changed Cosette’s life. Sometimes changing a person’s life may require we sacrifice. It may require we sacrifice some of our time, money, or energy. We serve a Christ who gave all he had because he loved each of us and we are called to follow his example. If you want to change someone’s life you must start by loving them the way Christ does.

Valjean is true to his word and raises Cosette as his own. The story jumps forward nine more years to show Valjean and Cosette as a happy family. He has become her father. He changed her life. France is now in the middle of a revolution led by Marius Pontmercy who has fallen in love with Cosette. She has fallen in love with him too. Valjean learns of this love and goes to the rebel front. During a fight between the rebels and the army Marius is injured. Valjean saves Marius by dragging him through the sewers to safety. He is saved and he can marry Cosette.

Sometimes changing someone’s life requires we get dirty. It requires that we experience the best and the worst of life with them. It may require we hold their hand while they are in the hospital or hug them when they are dirty or simply listen as they talk about their inner demons. If we are to truly love people enough to help them change their lives we must meet them where they are, even if it is a sewer.

As we live our faith in Jesus Christ may we be mindful of the people around us who are looking for a little help. Every day we are surrounded by people who are just waiting for someone to take notice, love them, and help them grow into different lives. May we be open to sharing grace and love with them.

Felicia Fox is the Minister of Youth and Children at First Baptist Church of Mount Olive, NC. This article originally appeared on her blog.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Where are all the women pastors?

by Dr. Tim Moore

When I was in seminary 25 years ago women were in the majority of my school’s student population.  While I knew that Andover Newton’s northeast location made those numbers more female friendly compared to most seminaries and divinity schools across the country, I still felt I was witnessing the beginning of a great shift in the American church.  I imagined that by the time I crossed over into my 50’s women would be pastoring churches by the same numbers they were sharing seats in my seminary classrooms.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It’s been a trickle, not a shift.

Churches send their daughters to seminary and divinity schools.  They brag on them before the whole congregation.  Ask them to guest preach the Sunday after Easter.  They gladly ordain them into ministry.  They just don’t call one of their daughters to be pastor.

And these are the “progressive” congregations who will consider women for clergy positions.

Of course the Catholic Church still refuses to consider female priests and evangelical congregations remain opposed to female pastors (that’s a-whole-nother blog), but recently even the Church of England failed to approve a measure allowing women to become bishops.  And while women pastors are no longer a rarity in mainline Protestant denominations, they are often segregated to small congregations that can no longer afford to pay “a man.”

Where are all the women pastors?

Called but not recognized.  Ordained but not placed.  Affirmed but underemployed.

First, this was the mainline church’s shame, now it is part of it’s undoing.  Today’s young adults have little patience for a Church that preaches one thing and practices another.  They are leaving in droves.  The hypocrisy about women in ministry is just one of our preach-but-don’t-practice problems.

The Festival of Homiletics is possibly the premier preaching conference in the country.  To its credit keynote speakers annually include the likes of Barbara Brown Taylor, Anna Carter Florence, Lillian Daniel, Lauren Winner, Barbara Lundblad, and more.  They are some of the best preachers in the country, who also happen to be women.  But most of them work in jobs other than as a pastor to a church.  Since this is not true for the male preachers at the conference, I don’t think it is a coincidence.

The sexist questions about a woman’s competency for the role have long been answered.  The Biblical question about a woman’s place in the role has long been answered for mainline churches.

So, what will it take for congregations to more frequently call women to be pastors?

I’ve shared my duties as one of the pastors at Sardis Baptist Church over the years with two talented and exceptional female pastors and currently meet with a lectionary group of gifted colleagues where at times I’m the only male pastor in the room.  (In that way I’m living into my seminary experience.)  My friends are the fortunate ones.  Having been given the opportunity to pastor, they excel.  But recently I was in a conversation about vocational futures with one of them and she said, “It must be nice to feel like you have numerous possibilities.”  The words stung a bit, but they made me realize how much my long-term pastorate has been a privileged choice and not a vocational necessity.

What has been your experience?  Am I too pessimistic?  Is there more than a trickle of openness to calling women as pastors (and not just as minister to youth or children)?  What specifically should male clergy be doing for their female colleagues?  Or would such good intentions be counterproductive?

Tim Moore is the pastor of Sardis Baptist Church in Charlotte. This article originally appeared on his blog, Abelard's Workshop.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Why Lent?

by Rev. Mike Currin

February 13 this year marks the beginning of the Lenten season. I must admit that in my early years, we didn't talk much in Baptist circles about the season of Lenten.  I am thankful that Baptists, at least some,  make the season of Lent important in their spiritual lives.  For me the season is a special time in my journey toward Easter. Properly defined, Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and for some even fasting in order to grow closer to God. It’s the forty days before Easter, excluding about one-tenth of a year (like a tithe of time).

In earlier times, people used Lent as a time of fasting and repentance. Biblically, at Jesus’ baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased.” Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted and prayed for 40 days.   During his time there he was tempted by Satan and found clarity and strength to resist temptation. Afterwards, he was ready to begin his ministry.

Maybe Jesus needed some time with God to sort through the major changes happening in his life.   Maybe he needed to get away from family, friends and the familiar routine in order to see God (and himself) more clearly.  Perhaps he wanted some intentional time with God as he searched for direction and answers like you.  Like Jesus, we may need to take some serious time to pray and listen for God.

Lent is a great time to “repent” — to return to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It’s a 40 day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart.  Rev. Penny Ford, a United Methodist minister has suggested some ideas to try during the Lenten Season. I list these to get you thinking about what you might consider:

  1. Volunteer one hour or more each week.
  2. Pray for others you see as you walk to and from classes or drive to and from work.
  3. Be kind to someone each day.
  4. Cultivate a life of gratitude. Write someone a thank you letter each week and be aware of how many people have helped you along the way.
  5. Create a daily quiet time. Spend 30 minutes a day in silence and prayer.
  6. Give up soft drinks, fast food, tea or coffee. Give the money you save to help folks in Haiti or others in crisis.
  7. Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it (maybe even yourself).
  8. Read one chapter in the Bible each day. (Matthew’s a good book to start with.  Psalms, too.)
  9. Start a prayer rhythm. Say a prayer every time you brush your teeth, hear an ambulance, or check your e-mail.   Before you text someone, pray for them.
  10. Try an electronic fast. Give up TV, Facebook, texting, e-mail and all things electronic for one day every week. (or everyday of Lent!) Use the time to read & pray.

Whatever you choose, may it lead to your spiritual growth through these days as we move to Easter. May God bless you spiritually this Lent!

Mike Currin is the pastor of Littleton Baptist Church in Littleton, NC. This article originally appeared in the Littleton Baptist News.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Your Church and Persons with Disabilities: Merely Access or Full Inclusion?

by Rev. Laura Barclay

I recently received a copy of the American Baptist home Mission Societies’ newsletter, The Christian Citizen, with the focus “Disability Ministry: From Access to Inclusion.” There was not only an abundance of ideas and practical information for how to become a more welcoming congregation for persons with disabilities, but also helpful articles that engage the imagination of readers without disabilities on what it would be like for a disabled person to walk into their congregation. One chaplain, Bill Gaventa, relates the following on page five:

“What we most want,” I have so often heard [from persons with disabilities], “is simply to be included in what is already there.” The place to begin, therefore, in ministries with people with disabilities and their families is not a new “special” ministry that is tacked onto the church. That approach can be derailed by first raising feelings of inadequacy among members about the skills they assume are necessary to include people with special needs. It is better to begin by talking with individuals and families about what they need and want and then taking a good look at what the church already offers. Then ask, “Why does anyone come? What are the gifts resident in the faith community and the congregation’s dream of this life and mission together? People with disabilities and their families say, “We want a place that is safe, sanctuary, a place of welcome and acceptance, a place where we can worship and learn, a place where we can both participate in and contribute to the life of a faith community.” That’s not so different from most other people!”

Keeping in mind the idea of providing sanctuary for persons with disabilities and provide inclusion in activities and initiatives already taking place in your congregations, ask, “How welcoming is my congregation? Do we have persons with intellectual and physical disabilities in our congregations? How do they feel when they are at church? How can we be more welcoming?”

After brainstorming, review some of the fantastic tips below provided by The Christian Citizen on how to become a more inclusive and inviting congregation for persons with disabilities. What would it look like to embrace these ideas in your congregation?

*Consider installing lifts instead of traditional elevators in older churches for cost-effective inclusion (pg 6).

*For vision and hearing-impaired members (a number that will increase as your congregation ages), consider using projection equipment for announcements, song lyrics, congregations responses, Scripture lessons and sermon outlines. Consider also using an adaptive listening system (pg 6-7).

*Some church use American Sign Language interpreters in their service. Is there anyone in your congregation who is fluent and willing to volunteer (pg 7).

*Create opportunities for employers in your congregation to connect with those with disabilities who are underemployed or unemployed. Create employment opportunities in the church itself (pg 1).

*The Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC) is spearheading an effort to raise awareness of and support for employment of people with disabilities through a solidarity statement. Encourage your congregation to endorse this effort and implement its provisions ( (pg 1).

*Support members and visitors with disabilities who are out of work with specific advice and training, supervised volunteer opportunities and introductions to those who make hiring decisions (pg 11).

*Hire qualified people with disabilities as ordained leaders, religious educators, musical directors, communicators, administrators, support staff, technical support and maintenance workers (pg 11).

*If you have returning veterans in your church, consider that loud bands can trigger PTSD. Consider a more contemplative approach to worship (pg 19).

Whatever you choose to do or are already doing in your congregation to provide the welcome of Christ to all persons, may God bless your efforts with reconciliation, inclusion, and relationship building that strengthens the body of Christ that is the church. Let us remember the words of the Apostle Paul, who said in 1 Corinthians 12, “There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” Let us always remember those who may suffer within and outside of our churches who feel the pain of division because of our failure to extend the welcome of Christ.

To read this edition of The Christian Citizen to learn more about creative an inclusive community, click here