Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Faith-Bits Welcomes LaGrange 1st UMC

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may now that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to members of my new congregation (LaGrange 1st UMC in LaGrange, GA) to  “Faith Bits,” my blog about life and faith in the 21st-century.  Although I use this this forum primarily to host my Pastor’s articles for our church’s newsletter, you’ll also find here some of my personal thoughts and musings on life, faith and Christian living relating not only to our local church, but also to our local, state, national and world community at large. 

Over the course of time, within this forum you’ll find words and stories of inspiration, information, challenge and humor.  I encourage you to subscribe at right (i.e.,"Follow My Blog By Email") to receive all posts as they appear, remembering that I will sometimes post articles here that will not appear in our bi-monthly church newsletter.  And, as I designed this to be an interactive online forum (where my articles are merely discussion-starters), please feel free to share appropriate comments as you feel led (click on the “comment” link at the bottom of each post), and/or share them with a friend via email or social media.

Finally, on this blog you’ll also find “Links to Life” websites that can help resource you in your walk of faith, as well as resource links to a few of my sermons (and other materials) that address common questions of faith and spirituality that I’m often asked or that I hear.

In the same way and spirit as the apostle Paul writing letters to his congregations (letters that we today call “Epistles” in the Bible’s New Testament), my hope and prayer is that this blog -- “Faith Bits” -- will become a connection point not only for life within our faith community at LaGrange First UMC, but will also provide each of you with an important and trusted source (and resource) for your own personal walk with God.

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Prayer for Charleston Violence

This is the prayer that I used today during worship as we prayed for our sisters and brothers in Charleston following the tragic shootings there last Wednesday...


"Oh Lord, violence has broken out again in our land,
Striking down clergy and laity of your church
In a city just across our state line, in a church
Which is part of our fellow Wesleyan-Methodist family,
In a house of worship called Emanuel (God with us).

We cannot imagine the grief being felt by those family members
Who knew that their loved one went to church to pray and did not return home.
We pray for all who are managing the aftermath
in hospitals, counseling sessions, homes, huddles of friends,
and in our congregations, where we face the brutal realization
that even our “sanctuaries” are no longer considered sacred or safe.

We are shocked, pained, astounded, angry at the injuries one person has caused,
And at the injury and hurt of his own soul that could allow him to act so brutally toward others of your children. We pray for him, O Lord, that he would find your peace and healing from the anger and prejudice of his heart.

But we also pray for ourselves today, for what happened last Wednesday in Charleston is still happening all over our world and to us all the time.  For if we have even spoken ill of another person because of the color of their skin, the content of their politics, the character of their religion, the nature of their sexual orientation, or any other reason then we have wounded them.  Forgive us, and give us courage and grace to confess our sin and apologize for our un-Christ-like actions and behavior.   For we know that the words once spoken by your servant Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are true which say that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

So,  Lord, break into our world with the power of your Holy Spirit.  Help us. Save us. Redeem us. Restore us. And help us be your instruments of love right here. 

Empower us to be your church -- a church of love that overcomes hate.  A church of peace that overcomes violence.  A church of forgiveness that overcomes fear.  A church who’s love and grace shocks the world and leads them to a better way.  
Work in us. And through us. May it be so.

Lord, we pray this, not knowing all the answers, and beyond seeking answers, but simply seeking you.  Jesus, as the waters of life and of our world roll and threaten to overwhelm us, let us fly to you, the healer of our souls and the only hope for our world.
We pray this to the honor and glory of your holy name -- the name above all names, and the name of ultimate peace and healing -- and the one who taught us to pray, saying [THE LORD’S PRAYER]…"

          [--Prayer by Rev. Dr. Brian Germano, compiled from a variety of sources, including a prayer by Bishop
              Michael Watson, NGA Annual Conference (6/18/15), a prayer (“Prayer Following Recent School 
             Violence”) by Taylor Burton-Edwards at www.umcdiscipleship.org, & a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.]


Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family” (Proverbs 18:24, The Message)

Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
Can't believe the hopes he's granted
Means a chapter in your life is through
But we'll keep you close as always
It won't even seem you've gone
Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord's the Lord of them
And a friend will not say "Never"
Cause the welcome will not end
Though it's hard to let you go
In the Father's hands we know
That a lifetime's not too long
To live as friends

With the faith and love God's given
Springing from the hope we know
We will pray the joy you'll live in
Is the strength that now you show
But we'll keep you close as always
It won't even seem you've gone
Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong”
[Chorus:Repeat x2]

[--"Friends" by Michael W. Smith, album The Michael W. Smith Project (1983), re-released in album Change Your World (1992)]

As we move to a new church, please know that we thank God for our ten years among and with you, our friends in Christ, and that we pray for you God’s richest blessings in the future! And never forget that God loves you and we do, too!  Brian & Trish

Sunday, June 14, 2015

2015 North Georgia Annual Conference

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

This coming week (June 15-19), over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 370,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will be gathering at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the North Georgia Annual Conference with the theme “We Are God’s People Connected: A Focus On Global Health.” This year I am serving as our church’s clergy representative, and Pat Holcomb will serve as our laity delegate. In addition, Lee Bierce, Cindy Campbell and Frieda Brown will be present and serve as at-large delegates from our Atlanta-Marietta District.

Each year’s Annual Conference makes important decisions that affect every United Methodist church in our geographic area: approval and ordination of new clergy and retirement of older ones; appointments of pastors to local churches are finalized (as most of you already know, effective June 25th I will be appointed as the new Senior Pastor of LaGrange First UMC in LaGrange, GA, and Rev. Nanci Hicks will be appointed as the new Senior Pastor here at East Cobb UMC); adoption of the conference budget; support for and reports from conference missions and ministries; exciting worship and bible study opportunities to enrich our spiritual lives; present our “Bishop’s Offering” (“Imagine No Malaria” to end malaria on the African subcontinent); and much more! This year, Annual Conference will also be electing 11 clergy and 11 laity delegates to represent North Georgia Methodism at the 2016 General Conference of world-wide United Methodism -- the body that meets every four years to make official decisions that affect the entire denomination. 

Upon our return from Athens, your delegates will be available to report on important decisions that were made, and how these might affect us as a congregation.  In the meantime, you can find more information about Annual Conference (including videos and other resources) by CLICKING HERE.

Thank you for your prayers, both for ourselves as your representatives, and for the Conference itself.  Always remember, God loves you and I do too!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Welcoming A (Female) Senior Pastor

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a minister of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you.” (Romans 16:1-2)

If you were at worship on June 7th, you’ll know that during my message I shared some of the biblical and historical background for why we have women as Pastors and senior church leaders in our United Methodist Christian tradition. While most of you don’t have any issue with this practice, for those who still have questions I encourage you to read my sermon online HERE.

For the rest, I want to share selections from a recent “Leading Ideas: To the Point” newsletter by Dr. Lovett Weems, where he shares advice gathered from clergywomen graduates of the Lewis Fellows leadership development program about how to properly welcome a female Pastor:

“Celebrate your new pastor. Know that your new pastor continues a tradition of women in ministry going back to biblical times. Do all that you typically do to welcome a male pastor, including praying for her daily. Give her a generous opportunity to fulfill her ministry, and let any judgment be by the biblical standard of fruitfulness.

Treat her as your pastor first. Avoid putting gender first in conversations about her. Talk about her as you would a new male pastor. Use the proper title, or ask what she would like to be called. Avoid using terms of affection, and resist language such as “woman pastor” or “lady pastor.”

She will bring unique gifts for ministry. Learn your pastor's gifts rather than making gender assumptions. She has both strengths and limitations, just as your male pastors had. Most of your delights and objections will not be gender-based. Respect different types of leadership. Some male pastors are not very good. The same goes for women. If she isn’t serving your church well, it is not because she’s a woman.

Expect some resistance but avoid making very much of it. Expect some push back, especially if this is a new experience for your church. A few may leave, but far more are likely to join. Resist assuming the worst and making too much of it. Clergywomen are common in today’s world. Avoid allowing negative voices to dominate. Ask people to keep an open mind. Most resistance is based on the unknown.

Avoid stereotyping and assumptions. Keep pastoral expectations as before. Don’t assume she will be good with children but not finance. Don’t expect her to bring treats for meetings. Women often have family responsibilities but so do many men. Resist asking about her personal life, relation-ships, or family plans that you would not ask a male pastor.

Some things may not fit. Be open to repainting the office and replacing the pastor’s chair if it no longer fits the occupant. The pulpit may need adjustment for height, and make sure the sound system works for a female voice, especially if it’s high or soft.

Make sure there is a trusted feedback group. Your
new pastor needs regular honest feedback from those committed to her success. Assure that someone is asking your new pastor how things are going and listen. A trusted group that listens makes the pastor more open to receiving feedback she needs to improve.

Avoid references to appearance. Avoid making comments about her size, shape, or appearance. How she dresses or does her hair should not be a topic of conversation. Avoid such comments that would never be made to a male pastor.

Pay attention to boundary issues. Take seriously any concerns a female pastor expresses about sexual harassment or unwanted actions involving staff, parishioners, or others. All clergywomen encounter such situations at some point. Train church leadership in how to recognize when harassment or sexism is at play. Members need reminding that “If you didn’t say it to a male pastor, don't say it to a female pastor. If you didn’t kiss your male pastor, don’t do it now.”

The all purpose question to remember: “Would you honestly ask (say, criticize) this if the pastor were a man? If so, okay. If not, drop it."

I pray that you will remember these words of advice as you welcome Pastor Nanci in a few short weeks to be your new Senior Pastor.  Remember, God loves you and so do I!