To Serve As you watch the news of the devastation in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, you probably wonder how you can help. Over the past several years, many United Methodists have understood how their gifts of generosity can make a difference, and have dreamed of ways to carry that generosity forward, into the future. What is your call to serve? They have established trusts at the Foundation to benefit UMCOR, the United Methodist relief agency. Each Alison Spiker and Grant Morris were transformed by year, gifts from those trusts are sent into the mission their experience with Volunteer in Mission trips to field in response to disasters and needs that the donors Guatemala. When they decided to marry, they started would never have been able to predict when the gifts a Trust at the Foundation and invited wedding guests were originally given. Their call to serve has been to set to make donations to the Trust instead of other more aside funds to help in disasters that have yet to happen. conventional wedding gifts. Alison and Grant answered a call to service by helping other young people go out in What is your call to serve? Please contact The Foundation to consider the possibilities of how we can mission through scholarships from their Trust. be of service to you. The words “to serve” are the first two words of mission statement of The United Methodist Foundation of West Virginia. It is who we are. We serve the people and ministries of the West Virginia Annual Conference as they consider how to answer God’s call to serve.
Consider the Possibilities... The United Methodist Foundation of West Virginia, Inc. Contact Jeff Taylor or Kim Matthews
P.O. Box 3811 Charleston, WV 25338 304-342-2113 or 1-800-788-3746 ext. 45 email@example.com www.umfwv.org www.facebook.com/umfwv
Deep Pockets Sarah Lowther-Hensley shares how family and faith make navigating life hopeful
Stir the Heart
Krysta Rexrode and her husband, Adam, are expecting their first child in December, and she is serving in her first local church appointment. Are they ready?
“Liturgy should connect people with God,” says Bishop William Boyd Grove as he talks liturgy and story with editor Laura Allen.
The Changing Seasons A photo essay from people around the Conference.
From the Bishop Isaiah and hope in the dry desert
“Means of grace” by Kim Matthews page 8
Front Cover: “Yonder” a monochrome by Julia Conley On the title: “Yonder”: I think I was thinking of the Psalm that says “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord.” And to me, looking in that direction is looking up yonder. On Art and spiritual life: I find more inspiration in visuals than in words. Some Bible verses have meaning for me that seem beyond
words, and can only be portrayed in images. On starting a painting or project: When I need to do a project, I like to mull over it for a while, much like a pastor thinks about a coming sermon. It seems to me that in that “mulling”, God always presents me with an image or an idea. Everything I have ever made that I felt was truly good, came from this kind of inspiration. Favorite artists: I have lots of favorites,
Just Pray The “simple act of prayer” can bring real peace, writes Conference Lay Leader Rich Shaffer
Short Good Stuff “Wineskins” poem by Sharletta Green page 18
Are you Ready?
Knock knock We should get up and check who’s at the door of the church, says JF Lacaria —maybe.
all kinds of artists, all the way from Andy Warhol to Jan Vermeer. My favorite West Virginia artists are Blanche Lazzell, a printmaker from Morgantown and Charley Harper, an illustrator originally from Frenchton, WV. The WVWC Library has a great collection of Harper’s work. Back Cover Photo: Alisa Mauk Lively took this photo of a snowy West Virginia Wesleyan College Nov. 12. Lively is the director of campus life for the college.
FROM THE EDITOR
mountain circuit volume 1, no. 1 Winter 2014
God is here... “An artist at work,” writes Madeleine L’Engle in her book, Walking on Water, “is a condition of complete and total faith.” As a society, we often think that the realm of artists and artistry belong to names like Bach, Van Gogh, or Bonhoeffer. But as Bishop William Boyd Grove reminded me during our conversation last month, writing, music, and painting are all ways that the artists of the ages remind us that beauty is a path to God. When we write, take photos, dance — when we create — we touch that connection too. And yet, in the cluttered state of everyday life where we jump from meeting to meeting, from one task to another, we often let beauty go by. And so, we miss God. But God doesn’t want us to live that way. From the beginning of our faith story, we know “that God saw all that God had made. And it was good.” The Bible is the grand story of God’s love for humanity, despite all we do to turn from it. Cain kills Abel. We build a grand tower that falls. Our greatest heroes commit adultery and murder. We try to control stuff — or are deluded by the idea that we are in control — until God reminds us otherwise. Even in our rebellion, though, God’s love holds true in Jesus, sent to us so that we might have a new life. (John, chapter 1) “God is here, God will come,” Bishop Steiner Ball reminds us in her reflection on the words of the prophet Isaiah (page 16). The desolate, dry wilderness of Isaiah 34 yields to the abundant blooming crocuses that spring up in Isaiah 35. The church in the 21st century finds itself in the wilderness. The Wesleyan movement that was once viral is now an institution. Have we lost our fire? Are we dry? Certainly, there are signs that we are, especially if one reads the media reports of what is described as our decline and desperation. Despite our best efforts to stay busy doing good (and we do lots of good), our packed calendars go unnoticed. Or at least, our good works are far less noticed than our denominational debate over one or two “hot-button” social issues. And yet, God is here. God will come. This is not the first time followers of God have found themselves in the desert. Lost and confused, tripping over ourselves, we wander with no direction. We accept (finally) that we can’t do this kingdom stuff our way. Isaiah echoes in Jesus’ fig tree parable as told in the Gospel of Luke. Christ tells the disciples that when they notice the buds on the fig tree, they will know that summer is just around the corner, that no matter the circumstances, God will bring new life: “It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking. “And then — then! — they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style — a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!” He told them a story. “Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here — when you see these things happen, you know God’s kingdom is about here.” (Luke 21: 25 — 33 — The Message) For a very long time, the communications team has dreamed of a place where we stop as a community and notice that God is here, God will come. In our liturgies and prayers, in our paintings and blog posts, in the rich stories of daily life, we share the green buds of hope Jesus talked about. And our light shines. — Laura Allen
The Mountain Circuit (TMC) seeks to share the faith story of the people of the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Published quarterly in December, March, June, and September, TMC emphasizes spiritual life through the writing, visual, and multimedia arts. P.O. Box 2313 Charleston, WV 25328 Voice (304) 344-8331 Fax: (304) 344-2871 email firstname.lastname@example.org
Resident Bishop: Sandra Steiner Ball Editor: Laura Harbert Allen Associate Editor: Adam Cunningham Production: Ashley Perks Contributors: Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball Julia Conley Sharletta Green Bishop William Boyd Grove JF Lacaria Brett Miller Krysta Rexrode Rich Shaffer Kim Matthews Find us online: wvumc.org
DEEP POCKETS By Sarah Lowther-Hensley
Did you ever get a winter coat out in the fall and discover stuff in the pockets? Stuff you forgot you ever put there? Yeah. Me, too. In fact, it happened to me just this week. I went to the hall closet and got out a coat. It was the first time anybody had worn this coat since last winter. I reached my hand into the pocket and pulled out a forgotten, folded up, abandoned five dollar bill. I took it as a sign. A sign that each of us has deep pockets of resources we don’t know about or
have forgotten we have. The neat part of this sign was its timing. It came less than twenty-four hours after I learned that, due to budget cuts, my employer was eliminating my part-time position effective January 3. I am soon to be among the downsized but not the dispirited. It was a sign. It was a sign that I’ve got deep pockets. There are not five dollar bills in all my deep pockets. Some of them
contain supportive family and friends. Others contain my faith, my curiosity about the world, new perspectives, adaptability, and my willingness to see what’s next along the journey. I gave that five dollar bill to our son (it was his coat), got in my car, and headed north about an hour and a half. The day’s journey reminded me of another deep pocket – my deep pocket of family connection. My kid sister was having surgery on her shoulder and I was headed to the hospital waiting room. My brother-in-law, my niece, my parents and I circled up some chairs in a corner. We waited and visited. Their pastor stopped by and kept us company. We offered and received encouragement from total strangers who were also waiting for word about loved ones. As they wheeled my sister out to get into the van for the ride home, my brother-in-law and parents made an actual, physical wall with their bodies to block the wind from hitting her as she came outside. Deep pockets of amazing and tangible love and care. As I reflect on my pending “joblessness,” I actually feel a spiritual sense of peace and possibility. Deep pockets of calm and reassurance. It seems like the next logical step in my journey. Last summer I intentionally “downsized” my job from full to part-time with an eye to carving out more time for family and to pursue my writing. I took that step in response to a “nudge” I felt – a sense of calling. Well, this week that nudge became a shove! This actually feels better than OK. It feels right. Even though winter is just around the corner…and we are getting out the coats (not all of which contain forgotten cash)… …I am moving on with a spring in my step… …and deep pockets of excitement for what is next.
By Rev. Krysta Rexorode-Wolfe
’m pregnant and that means, among other things, there is no lack of anticipation in my house this Advent. The baby is due to arrive sometime between Gaudete and Advent Sundays, right before Christmas Eve. This is perhaps the worst time of the year for a minister in her first appointment to be expecting a child, but planning these things is about as controllable as a live nativity—you can make sure all the donkeys show up, but you can’t keep them from braying when they want to. Nevertheless, I’m what they call “expecting” in a season characterized by expectation, and so you may think I would be prepared for the one question everyone asks, “Are you ready?” In the most recent edition of the “are you ready” game, I was talking to an elderly woman in the hospital. She was waiting for her husband to get out of surgery. She was nervous and fidgety; she needed something to keep her mind off of all the terrible thoughts that silence induces in vulnerable, waiting people. She asked me about my due date, the baby’s sex, my husband. She asked what my house was like, if the people at work were friendly about the whole thing. She
asked what my own mother was like and finally said, “Do you think you’re ready?” I smiled. I even nodded my head. I told her the polite things you say in a waiting room with a stranger—I’m fine. My husband and family are supportive. I have a great work environment. The nursery is painted and my maternity leave is all set, so on and so on. All the while, my brain was doing inventory. Is my hospital bag packed? Did I ever read the instructions for that breast pump? When was the last time I checked the recall list for baby toys, bottles, and car seats on the FDA website? While I grinned and patted my baby bump for this woman, I was faced with the scary truth of it all. I have no idea if I’m prepared, or if I ever will be prepared. How do you even know if you are ready? My husband and I aren’t too hip on locking on our toilets, putting up gates or sitting through parenting classes with names like “Alpha Parent: How to Stay In Charge” or “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Breastfeeding and the Public,” but we’ve put a crib together and we have a lot of love. Maybe that’s the best any of us can do—to assemble and
share love. The gospel lessons for Advent this year seem to suggest assembling and sharing love is not only the best we can do, but what we are called to do. In the first reading, the gospel writer of Matthew reminds us that we don’t have a lot of control. The passage is all about dealing with the unexpected, saying in 24:40-41, “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Things are going to happen. The economy will take too long to recover. Hurricanes will hit the coast. The church will be consumed with a need to preserve itself. Babies will be born too early. The point of the reading is that these things (and more) are going to happen, but the redemption that was promised by God is also going to happen. Matthew’s gospel says in 24:44, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” We are not left in the tension of this world to suffer for the sake of suffering, but to learn to see Christ in the midst of it all. The second reading from Matthew 3: 1-12 is a simple con-
tinuation of the first reading. It gives us a clearer picture of what to do while we wait for redemption. John the Baptist in all his crazy glory appears in the wilderness and proclaims that heaven is near. Christ, he says, is coming and those who love God are not simply to wait silently, but wait in a way that “bears fruit worthy of repentance” (3:8). We don’t serve God just by seeing and testifying to Christ in the middle of all the awful, broken stuff; we don’t serve God by simply falling back on our good heritage as sons and daughters of Abraham without also doing the hard work of caring for each other. The “good fruit” that follows our baptism is all about giving our time, talents, and presence when our neighbor loses his way on a journey toward sobriety, or when she is kicked out of her house for loving the wrong person. Advent, and indeed, the whole Christian narrative is about hearing God’s call to gather together and witness with our hands and feet as much as our mouths to God’s redemption already at work as a sign that ultimate redemption is near. The third and fourth readings affirm the first two. We hear in the third reading (Matthew 11:2-11) that Christ works in the exact places no one wants to be, the places no one is prepared to be. Jesus tells John’s disciples what it’s like to be a part of a heavenly movement and it’s not all that pleasant. The one who has come to redeem the whole world does not wear soft robes of royalty, but instead hangs out with the lame, the blind, the poor, even the dead (11:8, 11:5). From the time of his tumultuous birth in the fourth reading (Matthew 1:18-25) to his ministry among the lost and the hopeless in the third reading’s later chapters, Jesus Christ is telling us how to do the impossible thing of being a human between the inauguration of the kingdom on earth and its completion. Sometimes, when I’m faced with the ramifications of bringing a child into this world and I wonder whether or not I’m ready, I lean on the Advent gospel lessons. They remind me: I’m not in control, and even when I’m alert I’ll be exposed to all sorts of unpleasantness. I should not hide from this, for Christ the redeemer is in the midst of tension. And the good news is, the same Christ prepares a way for me—to assemble and share love. Krysta Rexrode Wolfe is a native of the wild and wonderful hills of West Virginia. Her best moments often include cuddling a dog, reading a comic book, and enjoying brownies she didn’t bake herself. She and her husband anxiously await the birth of their first child this Christmas; they do not anxiously await the sleepless nights that are bound to follow. They are currently being loved on by the Cheat Lake and Calvary UMC congregations that call Krysta “pastor.”
HANGING AROUND By JF Lacaria
Who are these people hanging around our doors? That’s what I want to know. And what are they doing there? I think these are good questions for our churches, and for the conference. This summer I was at the National Jamboree and went to the United Methodist tent in the religious life display area at the Summit Bechtel Family Scouting Center. Around our tent were Baptists and Adventists, Jews and Presbyterians, and even a tent that looked like a mosque. No one was fighting or calling each other names; they were just milling around, visiting and trying things out — a Sikh’s headscarf, someone else’s song. They were young scouts, adult leaders, respectful and curious, like people of God. So who were those people hanging around the door of our tent? And what were they doing there? Later on I went to the United Methodist Men’s Retreat at Jackson’s Mill. Just outside the door there were more than 700 young men and women and their
adult leaders, moms and dads. They were living in tents, cooking on stoves, playing and worshiping and leading ceremonies. Who were these guys — and gals? What were they doing there? I wonder how many of them didn’t know about us inside that room. Hey, maybe they asked each other, “who are those old guys in that room? What are they doing in there?” Maybe we need to step through the door and see what each other is all about. Maybe. In November I was in Syracuse, NY, meeting with other conference leaders. We went out to one of the Upper New York Conference camps called Casowasco. Came to find out that the staff at that camp are trying to get the churches and pastors in the Upper New York Conference to ask the same questions about all those folks who meet and worship and pray at Casowasco. Just who are those kids who only get this close to our churches? Why are they hanging around here? What are they up to?
What about our camp, Spring Heights, anyone checking on all those kids? Who are they? What are they doing? What do they want? And in my own church, when people from my town come to our free dinner on Wednesday, or to Zumba, or to Narcotics Anonymous. Does anyone ask who these people are? Does anyone care? They’re strangers, that’s for sure; they aren’t members, at least I’ve never seen them on Sunday morning. Don’t even suggest to me that they are angels sent from God, visitants, Jesus in disguise. We talk about our open doors and we like it when strangers come through them. But what about those people on the other side of our doors. Who are they and what do they want? What are they up to? Maybe someone should get up and do something about the door. JF Lacaria is Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries for the West Virginia Conference.
Model of Grace The Sunday school curriculum my class is using this quarter provides several lessons from Genesis, including the story of Noah. In Genesis 9, God says, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you...., I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. (8:9-12) The Sunday school curriculum pointed 8
out that this is a one sided covenant. God is actually making no demands of Noah. He doesn’t ask Noah to behave any differently than he had before. God offers relationship with no repentance. Are we willing to offer relationship without repentance? Are we willing to move forward with forgiveness without repentance? Will we offer grace without repentance? I think we often don’t. We often think, “I forgive when he says he’s sorry.” We withhold grace until an apology is offered -- until the other person admits
the wrong. It’s not the same situation we see in the Noah covenant. I imagine we don’t measure up to the one person God could find on earth who was worthy of salvation from the flood. Still, though, God’s covenant with Noah is a model for us of grace. And it’s a great model. — Kim Matthews, October 30, 2013 Kim is a member of Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church in Huntington, W.Va. Read more of Kim’s writing at sandpipersthoughts.blogspot.com
STILL GIVING I took this photo of Old Rehoboth Church near Union, W.Va. this summer during the Boy Scout Jamboree. While in West Virginia for the Jamboree, several scout groups performed service projects in the area. This scout was taking a break from the midday heat while working with his group to clear brush and spread mulch. The image reminds me of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, a book I read growing up. It follows a man’s life from boyhood to old age and his relationship with a tree over time. The tree gives him fruit to eat, provides shade to cool him, wood to build his home, and ultimately a stump to rest when he’s older. Rehoboth has served people differently in its lifetime as well. Once a spiritual home to frontier people, it now serves as a place for people to come together in fellowship. On this day in July, it was a comfortable place to keep cool. See more photos at flickr.com/wvumc. — Adam Cunningham
STIR THE The music and worship arts convocation that met this past summer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, involved several participants from the West Virginia Conference. Bishop William Boyd Grove wrote a liturgy for the Great Thanksgiving for the worship service that closed the event. I talked with the bishop about his writing, and the importance of liturgy. LHA: Bishop, thanks for taking time to talk about your work with me. I thought I’d start with your process for writing liturgy. How do you start writing? Well, I’m a poet and a hymn writer, and liturgy is similar, I think to poetry, if it’s done well. I was asked to write this piece by David Donathan, because he knows I write hymns; I’ve written for him and for Christ Church (Charleston). As to how we write liturgy — I try to do it in the context of my own spirituality, prayer and reflection on what I want the liturgy to say. Liturgy, particularly for Holy Communion or the Eucharist,
has a pattern that supposed to be there, whatever the language is. The three sections of the Great Thanksgiving are trinitarian when you look at it. There’s a reflection on God and what God has done; then the coming of Jesus — the words of institution; the word “supper,” then the prayer for invocation of the Holy Spirit that this bread may become for us the body and blood of Christ, and so forth. Considering that this was written for a convocation of people whose ministry is in worship and in the arts — I wanted this setting of The Great Thanksgiving to reflect that. Writing liturgy is an act of worship. I think sometimes, contemporary
worship has hurt the quality of liturgy. It’s important work — and the ultimate purpose of liturgy is to bring people closer to God. LHA: The Holy Communion liturgy you wrote certainly reflects the worship arts. Tell about the use of phrases like “with singers and painters,” and “poets and architects.” Talk to me a little bit about why you included that language. It was an attempt to call to mind, to call to soul, the people who create art. In a given setting, we are with the artists of the ages who have worshipped God — I might have said with “Mozart and Beethoven,” and in fact I did with regard to the hymn writers (Issac Watts and Charles Wesley). That is part of the whole company of Heaven. So it was to help the people who were receiving the sacrament that evening who are themselves artists and dancers and dreamers. It’s with these people and those like them now in heaven that
inspired me to write that. The phrase “when the morning stars sang and the children of God danced together…” from Job. I use that I love it. It’s actually form the book of Job — when Job and God were in their struggle — when he was complaining to God about suffering, etc. God said to him, basically, “where were you when I started this whole thing? When the morning stars sang together and all the children of God danced for joy?” I just love that phrase, and it came out here because it fit so well. LHA: So it’s kind of like a composer has certain phrases they are drawn to... Yes, that’s right! See, you can talk about God’s creation as a thematic statement that’s theological and prosaic; or you
can talk about when the morning stars sang together and all the children of God danced for joy. It’s the same thing, but it’s different. LHA: In writing, we call that “show don’t tell.” You can tell me what the idea is, but scripture shows us. You wrote this liturgy for a specific event this past July. What do you hope this liturgy shows pastors and laity and read it now? I would want pastors and laity who read this and use this in a worship setting to think differently about God. As they hear these words and pray these prayers, I would want them to think differently about who is this, the “company of heaven.” I want it to teach, edify and stimulate the imagination.
LHA: What is communion to you? Communion is the Lord’s banquet table to which everyone is invited. It’s the great “ya’ll come” meal of the church. It’s the foretaste of the banquet divine. I recall Acts chapter 4, where we hear about the power of believers in communion with each other daily. In that sense, Holy Communion is evangelical, that is, it is a calling of people to faith. That’s why United Methodists have an open table — many denominations do not. Many require baptism before communion. We have an open table because John Wesley believed that Holy Communion is a converting ordinance, that is it brings people into relationship with God. Don’t hold people off until they have faith; they get faith by coming, by some stirring of the heart that says “I want to go up and have that.”
The Great Thanksgiving The Risen Christ be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise. Our souls burst forth in song to sing your praise, Most Holy God. For you have made this world, and all worlds and given them to us, Calling us to be stewards of all that you have made. You made the earth a beautiful garden for us to enjoy and from the beginning, When the morning stars sang together and all the children danced for joy, You have been praised and we have been blessed. You have called us to receive, bless and preserve your creation. And so, with singers and painters, with dreamers and dancers, with poets and architects, with the Psalmist David and hymn writers Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, and with members of this fellowship who now reside in their heavenly home,
we join the entire creation in singing your praise: Holy, Holy Holy Lord, God of power, justice and might Heaven and earth are full of your glory Hosanna in the highest; blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. We worship, as we come to the table, the Savior you sent to us; at his birth, the angels sang, and throughout the ages, as he has taught and healed those who came to him, the worshipping church has sung his praise. He proclaimed a new kingdom of justice and peace, into which he invites us all. On the night he gave himself up to you, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread and said “This is my body, given for you.” And then he took a cup, gave thanks to you and said, “This is the new covenant in my blood, given for you. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” We pray that as we share this meal, you will anoint us with your Spirit to
bring good news to the poor and recovery of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed, until the day of the Lord’s return. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Pour out your Holy Spirit on those of us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine, that they may become for us the very body and blood of Christ; that we may be for the world the body of Christ, bearing witness to the new kingdom for which Jesus taught us to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. — William Boyd Grove, July 2013
“Be still and know that I am God.” We hear these words a great deal, but how much time to we take to stop and notice what God has done? As the seasons change, we wanted to notice that God shows up throughout the Annual Conference —and beyond. These very pretty white frame country churches aren’t always hidden at the end of a mountain lane.... This is Thompson Chapel UMC on John Nash Blvd. just outside of Blueﬁeld. Photo: Trinity UMC/David Smith
We found signs of the changing season during an afternoon walk through Charleston’s East End neighborhood. The ﬁrst snowfall of the season melted during the midday sun but started to freeze as the temperature dropped again. Photo: Adam Cunningham
Joy sometimes comes in an instant, like in this cold attic in a Christian School in Nanjing, China, during a 2011 Mission of Peace. Photo: JF Lacaria
This bright yellow dandelion must have thought it was Spring. It popped up after the weekend of the ﬁrst snow in Charleston. I noticed it while walking the dog. Photo: Laura Allen
This photo shows Wesley Chapel under construction in the 1960s. Note that the statue of John Wesley (“Big John”) is absent. Photo: WVWC archives
Bishop D. Frederick Wertz and Bishop Roy Calvin Nichols pose for a photo after being elected at West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1968. Photo: WVWC archives
From the archives… This past July marked the 45th anniversary of the 1968 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference meeting of the newly-created United Methodist Church. The previous April, at a Uniting Conference in Dallas, Texas, members of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church agreed to form a single denomination. The summer jurisdictional meetings provided one of the first opportunities for members of the new denomination to come together in worship, address logistics of the merger, and elect bishops to represent a landscape of conferences and churches that looked vastly different than it had when the jurisdictional conferences met previously in 1964. For West Virginia Methodists, the 1968 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference held extra significance because the West Virginia Annual Conference was chosen to host the event. Jurisdictional Conferences rotate between Annual Conferences in the region and West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon was ideally positioned to play host, having undertaken a major building projects in the years leading up to the 1968 meeting. The newly-constructed Wesley Chapel, the centerpiece of President Stanley Martin’s vision for campus, became home to 444 delegates from 25 different annual conferences. Representatives came from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico. By the conclusion of the conference, two new bishops had been elected both of whom would come to play significant roles in the life of both the West Virginia Annual Conference and West Virginia Wesleyan College. D. Frederick Wertz and Roy Calvin Nichols were consecrated as bishops during a special worship service on July 27, 1968. Wertz was appointed to serve the West Virginia Annual Conference, replacing Bishop Fred G. Holloway. He would return to Wesley Chapel, the place of his consecration, for the next eleven years from 1968 until 1980 as leader of the conference. Wertz also served as a loyal member of the Board of Trustees of West Virginia Wesleyan College during that time. Roy Nichols, the first African-American bishop elected after the United Methodist merger, was appointed to the Pittsburgh area where he served from 1968-1980. He served as an ex-officio member of West Virginia Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees and was given an honorary doctorate by the college in 1970. Both these men had long and distinguished careers in the episcopacy and maintained close ties to the West Virginia area. Bishop Nichols died in October of 2002 at the age of 84. Bishop Wertz died in October of 2013 at the age of 97. — Brett Miller, archivist for West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, WV WINTER 2014
FROM THE BISHOP
Be glad! Rejoice! Blossom!
By Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball
Isaiah 35: 1 – 10 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for god’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
e Glad, rejoice, blossom abundantly! In Isaiah chapter 34 the nations became a gloomy wilderness, a dry desert, full of predators. Suddenly, in Isaiah 35, just a chapter later, the wilderness becomes a place of gladness and the desert a place of rejoicing. The parched land will blossom. The dry areas of the nation will become fertile and productive. What happened? The answer is God has come near. We humans think we can produce vitality and joy on our own. We never can. Joy and vitality are by-products God’s presence in life. Through our lack of trust, we push God away, and the end result is dry lifelessness. When we recognize that all other
help is insufficient, we turn to God and finally, find the joy and healing of God’s transforming grace. Be Glad, rejoice, blossom! These are the first directions of Isaiah’s vision for the future in the midst of a gloomy wilderness, and it is the focus of the entire passage. This is a vision of transformation for the future, but exactly when it will dawn is not revealed. However, it is clear that this vision will be made manifest in the wilderness. This hardly seems the place for the life and vitality that Isaiah describes. And yet this makes perfect sense, for the vision shared here by Isaiah is God’s. God sees possibility and life where human beings see an illusion of what can’t
be done. God’s promise is within every human weakness; in every loneliness and desolation. In the “I can’t,” God’s promise holds true, within a complex history of oppression and redemption, failure and faith.
ilderness holds many meanings in scriptural prophecy. It is a place of flight and freedom. It is a place of murmuring where deadly animals live. Water is scarce, plants do not grow; it is dangerous place. It is a wide open place and it is easy to get lost. It is a place where God says: I am about to do a new thing! And then asks, Do you not perceive it? Are you ready yet? The wilderness is where human be-
ings have no control, a place where God laughs and cries when humans ask God to bless their vision. But what is God’s vision and God’s way through the wilderness? Are we prepared to join God already at work? The wilderness is where we can learn to dream God-sized dreams; most importantly it is where we learn to trust God. In wilderness God finds, guards and cares for us. God hopes that we come to our divinely created selves and join in creating life out of what appears to us a wasteland. This scary wilderness, the unknown and the known, is a place that could be vital. Isaiah’s wilderness sings with excitement and praise. “The wilderness and
the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” The desert will bloom with new growth. This dry earth will be given glory and splendor, visible fruitfulness and abundance, beyond the power of what mere mortals can do themselves. And the Glory that will shine forth from the transformation of this dry, wrinkled, waterless, hopeless place, will be God’s. If our God can do such things in nature, God can also do such things within the human heart and the community of faith. The prophet’s vision shifts to the present. The dry earth are people
with weak, frightened bodies; the green growth the promise of courage and strength. Isaiah has shared God’s presence and vision and he has shared it in the midst of difficult times – not unlike what we face today. We’re not the first society with people who feel empty inside. This is exactly what Isaiah describes when he talks about feeble hands and weak knees. This is a world that has no confidence anymore, one that has lost its nerve. There is “sorrow” and “sighing;” there are “fearful hearts.” Then Isaiah gives us readers of the biblical word a commission: to be God’s saints. Not the dead and memorialized kind of saint — no, Isaiah calls us to be
FROM THE BISHOP living, active and vital. Isaiah commissions us to be people who through God’s light in us, make a broken world more bearable. Like nails or super glue, we hold things together and make spaces safe. We are called to be the branches and fruit of vitality for others. Jesus repeats the message of the prophet Isaiah: we must hold the body of Christ together in the midst of hard times — through poverty, disagreement and abuse of the heart, mind, body, or spirit. We do this by living in the light, by living in God’s blessing. We love each other all the time, but especially in the most uncertain of times. The prophet talks of weak hands that can no longer do the work they were made for. The commission: make them strong. The prophet talks of feeble knees that give way to staggering and falling. The commission: make them firm. The prophet shows us people whose hearts and minds are gripped by stress and anxiety. Tell them,”Be strong, do not fear.” Be strong, open your eyes, for your God, the source of your strength and salvation is not off somewhere else, but is here.
illy Graham says “Church-goers are like coals in a fire. When they work together, they keep the flame aglow; when they separate, they die out.” We need each other in the body of Christ for that is where the presence of God is made manifest. I am not talking about buildings, rather that the body of Christ, the church, is present wherever
we find ourselves in daily life. When we work together and share God’s blessing of love the body grows and the light shines. When we are together in Christ, we can handle the challenges of the world and work through disagreement with respect; recognizing the Christ in the brother or sister with whom we disagree. When we are together in Christ, we can help others come to know and have the blessing of God which will help them handle the challenges of life as well. When we help others know and have the blessing of God, we begin to bear the marks of vitality. What are the marks of this vitality? Isaiah outlines them pretty well. We are vital when we see and hear God even in the wilderness. We are vital when we see where God is at work in the brokenness and the deserts of life, and join God in that work. We are vital when we allow the light of God to shine through us, to bless and bring new life. We foster a unity that keeps the flame of the Spirit alive not just for a few, but for the whole community. God is here. God will come. Isaiah offers assurance for present and for future. In the future, Isaiah asserts that God will act for the people to deliver them. The eyes of the blind, and the ears of the deaf will be opened. The lame man will leap; a silent man’s tongue will shout. God’s presence transforms every inability into ability and everything we lack into abundance. Isaiah 35 invites us to reflect through new testament eyes on God’s coming in Christ, the gift of life. But this is not
just about God coming to us! We must reflect also on what it means to accept the gift, to live in the unity of God within our great diversity. That mark of vitality, made possible through Christ must be our central focus for real life together. This Way of living will be in a place of wandering and danger that was once wilderness, but is now raised and holy. Vitality means that we are not only with God, but with each other. It means that we work in a way that respects and seeks to walk with those who think differently than we do. We don’t condemn or judge people who walk on the disciple road in a different way from us. We don’t need to push our way or claim God’s prophetic voice for our own in ways that alienate rather than unify. To be vital, we must work together as the body of Christ We must help each other in our faith and share the spirit of Christ and the blessing of God with all we meet. Then we will fulfill the mandate to be glad, rejoice, and blossom! Our sorrow and sighing will flee. In this Advent season, we jump and shout and sing, for indeed God comes and God is here. Together, may we walk as a vital, glowing fire of God lighting the way for us and others to our eternal home. Sandra Steiner Ball is the resident bishop of the West Virginia Area (Conference) of the United Methodist Church. This piece is based on the sermon she preached at the Council of Bishops gathering in November in Lake Junalaska, NC
New Wine in New Wineskins God of all creation, you gather us as your children in all of our diversity; with our many gifts, our struggles, our brokenness, the best and worst we have to offer. And with your Holy Spirit you touch that which is whole, yet scarred by our human-ness. As we listen, pray, hope, question, worship, You speak! We who are enthusiastic, multicultural, musical, teachers, members of the beloved community--come ready to move out of 18
our comfort zones, learn new language that builds up and does not tear down; to erase barriers, to experience a Holy change, to embrace optimism in our lives and work as ministers of the Gospel. Our old wineskins are torn, leaking, and our wine has lost its taste. Healing, restoring, loving, life-living God: Give us the grace to accept the new wineskins sewn by your hand as the people called United Methodists. So that, as we communicate
your love story for us, we may live as your Divine Kingdom on earth as we celebrate the new wine and new wineskins provided by our intentional work; building trust, living, exploring as Hispanic, Asians, Koreans, Africans, African Americans, Native Americans, Biracial, Puerto Rican, Whites, that all may live in harmony as the beautiful tapestry of the birthed dream of God. — Rev. Sharletta Green (Simpson Memorial UMC, Charleston)
THE SIMPLE ACT OF By Rich Shaffer, Conference Lay Leader How is it with your soul? When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul. — Horatio G. Spafford
very time I hear this wonderful hymn it brings peace to my soul. This music speaks directly to my soul and gives me the reassurance that Jesus is with me, and He is showering me with blessings and encouragement. Through these words I feel His presence and know He loves me, He cherishes a relationship with me as well as with each of His children. I really like this quote by C. S. Lewis: “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body”. C. S. Lewis accurately captures the human condition in this quote; too often we think of ourselves only in the physical realm and ignore the spiritual world which is the true reality of our existence. If we but tithe our time and devote a tenth
of our attention to the needs of our spirit instead of spending all of our time planning for what we will eat, where we will live and what we will wear tomorrow, what a difference God could make in this world through us. By spending a tenth of our waking time in the presence of God, imagine how He will bless us. There may not be such a thing as a simple prayer! Any conversation with God is special, holy and valuable beyond our comprehension. Do I spend a tenth of my waking time praying or working for the kingdom? Not every day, but I should. In our busy lives we need to find time for God in order to cope with the stress of our times. I pray daily for some folks in my accountability group. There are times during prayer as I name each person individually I can feel the other person’s spirit with my spirit while we stand in the presence of Christ. During these times the Holy Spirit washes over us and I stop speaking as our souls communicate on a level I cannot describe. Our Lord and Savior knows what the person I am praying for needs and also what I need better than I could ever verbalize. A very real peace comes over me after these times of prayer. We can all pray. If you believe you are not worthy, that God will not hear your prayer, start by asking for forgiveness of your sins. No one is worthy except by grace freely given through the death of Jesus Christ. We are all sinners, but because we believe Jesus is the Son of God we are forgiven, we only need to ask. Pray for those you know, the leaders of the church, the country. Pray for those things you are concerned about and ask God to show you how to make a difference. Often when we see a need it is because God wants us to do something about that need. God wants to have a personal relationship with you! Prayer is the way we can communicate with God. Remember to leave time to listen for the voice of God during times of prayer. I recently had a conversation with a woman who told me she had prayed and prayed for a friend who was suffering from cancer. Others had been cured of cancer when they had received prayer, but her friend died. The woman became upset with God because her friend died. Shortly after her friend died, while the woman was walking and discussing the events with God, she heard Him say to her, “your friend has been healed in heaven; your prayer was heard and answered.” The woman’s anger and pain disappeared. A peace settled over her and she thanked God for all He had done. During Advent and Lent there will be available a daily devotional written by the laity of the West Virginia United Methodist Conference. I invite you to read and meditate on these devotionals during these times of preparation and I pray they will be an inspiration to you. “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” — C. S. Lewis How is it with your soul? Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball challenged the members of Covenant Council to ask this question of people we are in contact with over the next few months. WINTER 2014