Today I Saw God
On Saturday, April 14, I had the privilege of joining about a dozen other leaders from Floris United Methodist Church and about two hundred others at Annandale United Methodist Church to participate in the Bishop’s Convocation on Race and Reconciliation. Most of us from Floris came because of our connection to our congregation’s new racial reconciliation initiative, and we anticipated hearing how our bishop and other leaders would lead those gathered to be more effective agents of change and reconciliation in our communities.
It’s not easy getting up to spend a Saturday in church. However, between worship together, a challenging presentation by our keynote speaker Romal Tune and small group training on facilitating difficult conversations, I found myself seriously considering my own race for one of the first times in my life.
As a straight, white, Christian male, thinking about my own identity is not a normal thing for me to do. Most of my life experience has occurred in spaces where most people look like me, speak my language and believe similar things that I do. I have lived a lot of my life in a dominant context, meaning that, not because of any decisions of my own but because of a system from which I benefit, my voice is often heard in conversations and in communities when others’ may not be. For a long time, I bought into the same lie that many white people believe, that I don’t have
A video by
We usually talk about racism by
Rather than keep racism within the bounds of interpersonal actions, our working definition of racism focused more on how racism acts as a system of racial prejudice developed and sustained by institutional power. This shift in focus led us to consider our own participation in the racist systems that uphold our society and realize that being white does not mean being without
As we had these conversations, a phrase from our keynote speaker Romal Tune stuck with me. At one point, he spoke about what white people can do in response, and that deciding to act is really hard. Because of the ways our society has been set up to benefit the white elite, in some sense, any action toward racial and socioeconomic equity requires those in power to give up and share that power. In other words, as Tune said to those of us who were white in the room, “There is value in your silence.”
The moral weight of our work hit me squarely in the face
I do not claim this responsibility as an egotistical white man looking to continue fixing the world’s problems with my own solutions. I claim this responsibility at the invitation of my non-white sisters and brothers to join the effort they have maintained their entire lives: working to make sure our society views them as people and as nothing less
My white sisters and brothers, we cannot put the burden of equality on those who have borne the burden of oppression for far too long. Be informed. Be empathetic. Be willing to say that you’re wrong. Be willing to apologize. Be willing to listen and learn. As Tune told us, our past is not our future, but the past has dramatically shaped our present. I invite you to join the work of our racial reconciliation initiative to help shape our future, so you too can discover the value in others that far outweighs the value of our silence
I've identified as a Christian longer than I can remember. I grew up in a Christ-centered family, went to Sunday school and bounced around churches and denominations as I went through college and eventually struck off on my own. Yet, throughout my life as a Christian, I never felt truly at home in my church community. The church I grew up in espoused an elitist, legalistic dogmatic brand of Christianity to which I simply couldn't relate. The church I attended in college consisted of a small faith community composed mostly of elderly members with whom I, as a young college student, had little connection. When I moved to the Northern Virginia area to pursue my graduate studies, I began attending the local mega-church, but found myself lost in the immense crowd of congregants. More than anything, I desperately desired to find a faith community of members who truly cared about others, and took real risks to live Christlike lives.
I found that community home ten years ago when I walked through the doors of Floris United Methodist Church. I was (and, if I'm honest, still am) blown away by the love and generosity shown by the members that comprise the Floris community. I had finally found a community of like-minded believers who truly strove to model Christ's love to those around them; furthermore, I had found a church that wasn't afraid to take risks to spread love and alleviate suffering.
The Floris UMC community is highly active in our own backyard of Northern Virginia, where members work to serve meals to area homeless (FACETs "Hot Meals" Program) and provide tutoring and meals to at-risk youth at a local elementary school. The generosity of the Floris UMC community, however, extends far beyond the reaches of Northern Virginia. In 2000, Floris UMC members and clergy helped found the Child Rescue Centre and Mercy Hospital in Sierra Leone, a ministry that has saved countless lives, driven down infant and maternal mortality rates and served to educate and provide services to over 500 children in one of the poorest countries in the world. If these ministries weren't enough, for as long as I can remember, the Floris UMC clergy have opted to give away the entirety of the offerings collected at Christmas Eve (often totaling several hundred thousand dollars).
To put it simply, the Floris UMC community is deeply special and unique. Unfortunately, the Floris UMC community, like most all brick and mortar churches, has been geographically constrained to those members within driving distance. While I'm highly fortunate to live near Floris UMC and her sister church Restoration Reston, countless others across the globe stand to benefit from entering into the Floris UMC community. That's why I'm incredibly excited be a part of Restoration Worldwide, the first truly virtual Floris UMC campus, which kicks off today. While Floris UMC has live streamed its worship services for years, Restoration Worldwide offers the unique opportunity to break the constraints of physical geography by enabling people from across the world to actually become a part of the Floris UMC community, engage Floris UMC members in online small groups and receive pastoral care from Rev. Ashley Allen, the Restoration Worldwide Minister. And that's just the beginning. We here at Restoration Worldwide plan to roll out new ways for Christ followers across the world to integrate themselves into the Floris UMC community, but we need your help.
- First, give us your feedback. This is an evolving ministry unlike anything we've ever attempted. We need your insight into what works, what doesn't, and what you'd like to see in the future.
- Second, invite your friends and family, however far away, to be a part of our community.
I fell in love with the Floris UMC community ten years ago. The selflessness and compassion of our community stands as a beacon in a dark, hurting world. Please join us as we strive to shine that beacon across the world, to anyone with an internet connection. Come join our community. Welcome to Restoration Worldwide. We're glad you're here.
The post Not Your Parents' Brick & Mortar Church: Welcome to Restoration Worldwide appeared first on Today I Saw God.
The first email arrived in my inbox on June 20, 2017, from Floris' worship leader, Megan Gumabay as a general distribution email and read in part as follows:
"We have some exciting opportunities for volunteering with our student ministry. Ashley is currently seeking adult leaders for upcoming student mission trips, and she felt praise team members would be great in this role. Please contact Ashley or me if you want to discuss this in further detail with her."
I thought, hey I am pretty busy with my praise team and consulting / handyman work and family, so I just said to myself, someone else will step up.
The 2nd email arrived in my inbox on June 26th, 2017, merely six days later from a close friend in the Emmaus Community, again in a general distribution email, but with a little more urgent feel to it and read in part:
I just received a message from Ashley Allen saying that, sadly, all Floris Youth Mission trips may have to be canceled due to lack of a sufficient number of adult chaperone volunteers."
Again, I ignored the email. Hey, I said this time to myself, I have done more than 17 mission trips, and this trip would be with 6th, 7th and 8th graders what could they possibly do or for that matter, what could I do? I know can handle leading adults and High School age young adults on mission trips as I have done many times, but I'm sure someone else will step up.
The THIRD email arrived in my inbox on June 27th, merely a day later and it was directed to me specifically by our youth director/pastor Ashley Allen:
I hope this finds you well and enjoying the start of the summer!
As you know,mission trip time is fast approaching for student ministries! Unfortunately, we are at risk of having to cancel all of our trips this year.
This reality is painful to even think about. We have not yet had the leaders step forward this year that we need to honor our child protection policy for each of these trips which, as you can imagine is non-negotiable for us. Tim Wells shared your name as someone who is not only a willing servant but also might be available to go on one of these trips.
We are in need of one more male to be a leader on our middle school trip with the Jeremiah Project to Romney, WV.
I would be so grateful for your prayerful consideration of this opportunity. I know that you would be a blessing to our students and that you would also be blessed by serving with them. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Thank you so much!"
OK, OK, OK GODI hear you loud and clear! I need to put aside my pre-judging of what I THINK about leading a team of middle school youth and remember that I am being called to be part of something larger and that only God knows what that is, or will be. I picked up the phone and called Ashley – but only after extracting the splinters in my face from the 2×4 piece of lumber God hit me with and said to her – Yes I would go and lead the middle school youth.
Stepping up to lead this trip was truly difficult for me. I have been actively engaged in mission trips since my first mission trip just three months after Katrina hit in Mississippi in August 2005 and spent Thanksgiving week in Bay St. Louis gutting homes inundated by 20-30 feet of storm surge. Since that first mission trip 12 years prior, I have been on at least 16 more mission trips, including multiple trips where I served as the construction lead or co-lead for high school youth and other adults. Still, I kept thinking what can 6th, 7th, or 8th graders do in a week and how can they possibly be a part of the Body of Christ that I had "labeled" in my mind as only inclusive to older youth and adults. I have a bad habit of pre-judging individuals and work daily to fight this sin. In this particular instance, God had other plans.
I had a chance to present a talk at a recent Walk to Emmaus weekend about what makes up the Body of Christ and this trip to Romney, WV for the Jeremiah Project changed my view on who is the Body of Christ forever.
Let's start with what is the Body of Christ? When we became Christians, we became new persons (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:14-16). We became part of a group of people with a common calling: to belong to Jesus Christ. No matter where we are or what we do or who we are, we are joined together like parts of a new body to reflect in the world the Christ in whose image we are created. This new body, comprised of all Christians, is known as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-20). You and I and all Christians everywhere make up the working parts of that body, the church universal.
The body of Christ is, however, more than the community of Christians everywhere. This term also describes the church fulfilling its mission in the world.
The body of Christ is the community of disciples united by faith in Christ and response to Jesus' call to "Follow me," to be the church wherever they are. The body of Christ continues Christ's ministry in the world today.
The body of Christ shows itself in various forms such as:
- a) a local congregation
- b) an ecumenical mission formed of different faith backgrounds
- c) a family seeking to live in faith
- d) wherever two or three are gathered in Christ's name.
Who makes up the Body of Christ? The church is more than its building, its' organizational structure, and institutions, or its' appointed leaders. Though all of these are important aspects and features, sometimes people mistake these for the church. Instead, the church refers to all the people of God who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, seek to continue Christ's life and ministry wherever they are. The Body of Christ is comprised of both laity and clergy who are meant to support one another and work as a team. We should not expect pastors to carry an entire load of taking the gospel to the world.
Laity is those who serve by being witnesses to the living Christ and carrying the gospel into their homes, workplaces, communities, and institutions that shape the lives of people.
Clergy is those who serve by fostering Christian community, interpreting God's Word, administering the sacraments, and equipping the saints for doing ministry in their world.
Both Laity and clergy are never in competition.
Each individual Christian is an important member of the body of Christ. But it is important for individuals to form groups that can join resources to foster faith and act together to impact society.
In the Bible there is no limitation on the age of whom the Body of Christ is to be comprised.
Jesus was clear in scripture as well, for example, in Matthew 19:14 New International Version (NIV):
14Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
The Christian family is also an expression of the body of Christ. Strong churches need the involvement of families, not just individuals. Families have been called the "domestic church"the place where people's lives are most deeply shaped. The family of faith has always been seen as the foundational setting for Christian education and faith formation.
However, even though I was familiar with what Jesus had preached, I remained stubborn and continued to believe that middle-school youth were not really a part of the Body of Christ.
By now you are probably wondering how that mission trip to West Virginia with the Jeremiah Project turned out? Well, it was held in a 4-H center, but without any air conditioning in the middle of July and every day was at or above 90 degrees! Furthermore, it was REALLY loud with a total of 71 middle school youth at the camp from multiple churches, but going on this mission trip was the best decision I have ever made and forever changed my view of who makes up the Body of Christ and what we can do as part of that Body.
At the Jeremiah Project, they mix up the teams and leaders. I was assigned 5 youth for the week, but no co-leader. Normally, we rotate jobs Monday and Tuesday, with an off day on Wednesday, then work again Thursday and Friday and depart Saturday. Because of my experience in construction, our team was the only team that was assigned to work on one project for Monday and Tuesday while other teams rotated work sites daily. Our work included cutting pickets for railings, digging post holes, pouring footers, building stringers and supports to complete a 20' long ramp for wheelchair access from a deck to a gravel driveway.
We finished our first project on Tuesday. Wednesday night, after we had our team day off to relax, I was called in to the construction leaders' office to help design an urgently needed low rise 8' length of stairs for an elderly woman, 82 years of age, who was on oxygen and used a walker. She has not been able to leave her trailer without assistance more than 12 years due to not having a properly sloped/constructed ramp. Her grandson would have to carry her out of the trailer when she needed to get out to doctors appointments. We could not build the 40' ramp needed due to lack of funds, but we could build something.
I informed my team on Thursday morning that we were going to another location do build stairs/digging holes and framing and was greeted with "Mr. Scott, other teams are painting and landscaping.why can't we do these other jobs?" I said, we do what we are asked to do and serve as requested. We loaded up the van and headed to the home some 40 minutes away. During the trip I explained the project and the urgent need. There was silence for a brief second but immediately followed by grumblings about digging, rock removal, drilling and not being able to paint or landscape, as other teams were doing. When we arrived, we went inside this old trailer and were met by Ms. Emma (not her real name) and her grandson. She was seated in a chair with her oxygen tube and tank nearby. Introductions were given and then discussion started. She shared with us her life history, the medical and structural reasons for her confinement and thanked us for being there.
Then, without hesitation, she told us that 6 months prior she had "died". She remembers being put in the ambulance at the top of her driveway and hearing the medic saying "uh-oh, this is not good". She was clinically dead until resuscitated by the EMTs in route to the hospital — and awoke in Winchester hospital. She shared about her seeing a bright light, feeling warm and not being afraid of death ever again. In fact, she was truly looking forward to reuniting with her husband and other family members who have preceded her in death and are waiting in heaven.
Oh, and then she added that this was the second time she had died.the first time she died had happened six months prior. The entire room became completely silent (which was rare) as we, especially the youth, absorbed what we had just heard had been experienced by Ms Emma.
That day we built the stringers, posts and cut all the treads and the youth worked tirelessly and efficiently. The day ended and I knew we would leave without having finished the project. But I was grateful to know another team would be there tomorrow to finish. We prayed as a team holding hands with Ms Emma.
On the ride back to camp, my team, who earlier that day were begging to paint or landscape asked if I could request from the camp leaders if our team could return to finish the job on Friday. Our request was granted. We returned. We finished.
I am so glad that God hit me with that 2×4 in the face because it is important to remember, we ALL are the Body of Christ. Age and grade do not matter to God, only what we can do for others.
The post The Body of Christ is Everyone, Including Middle Schoolers! appeared first on Today I Saw God.
Editor's Note: This week 16 middle school students and fiveleaders traveled to Romney, West Virginia to participate in the Jeremiah Project. The following are updates from two of the students on the trip.
I went to the Jeremiah Project this year. I want to share what it was like on the worksite. You have to wear jeans at the site, and it is very hot. You have to drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
On the first day you get put on a work team. Your team creates a name for the week. After breakfast, you put in your lunch order and a team member packs a cooler. Then you head out to your site.
Some of the jobs include painting, carpentry or cleaning. One of the hardest jobs is silver sealing. Everything gets sticky and it's very annoying. It was a lot of fun. I loved JP.
Submitted by Wyatt Byrd.
Was there something memorable that a resident said to you on the trip?
Never give up no matter how much work it takes.
What did God show you or say to you on this trip?
God truly does work in mysterious ways.
What was fun or exciting about your service?
Getting to work with people, getting to know them and making new friends.
Submitted by Lindsay Byrd.
Editor's Note: This week 25 high school students and fiveleaders traveled to Toronto,Canada to do inner-city mission work. The following are updates from two of the students on the trip.
We were off to the church. Our luggage was squished into the back of our Toyota Highlander. It would be unloaded and then reloaded into the bus that would take us to Toronto. We checked in, said farewells to parents, completed the usual pre-mission trip duties and then we prayed.
While we were standing in a big circle, hands linked with total strangers who I would travel with, I felt God's presence there, ready to help us through the upcoming week of volunteering. The prayer ended, but God's presence lingered, staying with us as we occupied the bus and drove away.
Stops were made, long McDonald's lines were endured, questionable gas stop purchases were made and an absurd amount of soda was drank, but we made it to Canada. It's a really pretty place.
I'm looking forward to the rest of our time in this beautiful country. And I know everyone here will strive to help others and become better and stronger children of God in the process.
Submitted by Jessie Taylor.
Even though my group worked to improve the living space for many homeless women today, I saw God elsewhere.
After our cleaning and organizing, we sang karaoke with the women. I saw God as the women's faces lit up with joy and excitement about our singing. I saw God in everyone who sang and how enthusiastic they all were.
God brought joy to the women in the shelter and our group today in an unexpected way.
Submitted by Craig Benson.