Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Pastoral Letter on the Current Crisis at The Med

For the past couple of years, I've had the joy of being in fellowship with a special group of clergy and their spouses. We represent a cross section of Memphis and Shelby County. We are black, white, urban and suburban, high church, contemporary, interfaith...I was at Saint John's when I first became a part of this group, and have remained in my move east representing Cordova, along with my next door neighbor, Craig.

We fellowship with each other throughout the year- we avoid "preacher" stuff when we get together. Rather, we seek to be friends to one another. In what must seem the definition of irony, we who have answered the call of this vocation often find ourselves the most lonely. I bear witness that this can be so. To have this unique fellowship is a means of grace.

Only on one previous occasion have we marshaled our resources to speak as a group. It was during the horrific murders on Lester Street last year. We find it necessary to speak again. As I did during the Lester Street response, I was asked to write a pastoral response from our group on the current situation regarding The Med. Although the final version may deviate from this one just a bit, this word represents us all. We will be sharing this with our congregations seeking to join our voices for the good of our community. We invite all people of faith to join with us in this quest.

Dear Sisters and Brothers of Faith,

As clergy leaders from across Memphis and Shelby County, we celebrate the unity shared in common fellowship. We have found our resolve strengthened, and our love of and deep desire for a city that lives up to the fullest measure of its slogan – the “city of good abode” equally true for all of its citizens. Because of our friendship and fellowship, the better nature of our faith traditions and theological perspectives transcend divergent viewpoints, which too often serve to divide our community.

Today, we stand uniformly and unequivocally gathered around the question of care for the most vulnerable of our society, the least of these, and those pushed to the margins unable to access life’s basic needs because they are poor. The mandates of the Hebrew Bible and the Holy Gospels on this point are unyielding and unavoidable.

In the current climate, this question is manifest most profoundly in the poor’s inability to access proper healthcare in the City of Memphis. Like the rest of Memphis and Shelby County, we have heard the dire warnings of the imminent closure within The Med’s Emergency Department in February, 2010. We find such an option untenable for our community and we call upon elected officials and community leaders to explore all creative and appropriate means to sustain The Med through this crisis as long term solutions for indigent healthcare are studied and implemented.

While the circumstances prompting this crisis are complex, the need for sustainable care is constant. The Med’s role in offering this care to our community is essential. The impact of closure will ripple from the river’s edge across Shelby County and beyond. And surely, it is those in greatest need with least ability to access care who will most suffer. Our unwillingness to respond to this crisis will serve as an indictment upon the character of our community.

As clergy and pastoral leaders, we are compelled to the urgency of this moment. We invite our congregants to join us in appealing to our elected officials and community leaders to make a way for The Med’s services to continue unabated. While this is not solely a political question, political courage will be necessary to sustain The Med. We believe it to be a matter of faith for the common welfare of the people—our neighbors, our sisters and brothers. We call upon our congregants to join us in a season of prayer for our leaders that wisdom will prevail over political expediency.

Join us as we advocate for the least of these in the name of our Loving God.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


For the past several months I’ve asked the congregation to sit with me and assess our compass heading.

Where are we?

Where are we going?

To what do we aspire?

How do we bridge the gap between where we are to where we feel God’s leading?

Your input has been very informative and has helped me understand Covenant in context. It is in no small part the fruit of those prayerful Christian conversations that has given rise to our shift in Sunday morning scheduling, set to launch January 3, 2010.

Covenant in context. That has been a key for me.

We who have been to seminary and had to endure, oops, I mean enjoy courses on Biblical interpretation are very familiar with a German phrase that guides interpretation of Holy Scripture. The phrase is “sitz im leben.” It is translated “setting in life.” When we read Scripture, beyond what we think it says, or what we think it means for us, we must first be guided by the notion of what it meant to those who first heard it, who first received it. What was their setting in life that prompted such words to be offered in the first place?

I have been studying our “setting in life” for these months upon my arrival as your pastor. I could not with any integrity whatsoever articulate any change in the rhythm of our church without knowing our context, living in it with you, and determining whether a shift was warranted in the first place.

It is from that perspective I offered my strongest sense that we needed to recalibrate our course for two primary reasons. The first is to claim outright that each worship experience has value and requires the fullest measure of attention from each of our clergy every week. And the second reason depends upon the first. That is, it is time for Covenant to stand up and proclaim its distinct Methodist witness in Cordova. It is time for us to set our course toward growth, in outreach, mission, ministry and evangelism.

For Covenant to be the Church we could be, and what The United Methodist Church needs us to be, we must focus upon the scores of people who are not yet a part of our fellowship, but because of this course recalibration, will come to be integral to our community of faith. To that end we offer this shift.

I know only too well how jarring it can be to make a change like this. I have studied, prayed, talked, conferred, sought counsel from every level of the Church, spent too many sleepless nights, and anguished over where we needed to go. After living in this context for some months, the one thing I concluded was that the status quo was not going to allow Covenant to make its best and most effective witness for the long term.

With this change, we make room for growth in Sunday Schools that right now we do not have. We create an additional hour every Sunday morning for groups to form. I’m encouraging all classes to consider the implications of this shift on their group and to consider their decisions investments in Covenant’s future. If very large groups are willing to split and seed new groups that would be great, although it needs to come gladly and willingly. I'm not intentionally forcing any group to split. Groups who seek to remain intact and find this shift makes it difficult to do so on Sunday mornings are encouraged to find other ways, other times to be together.

With this change, Lora Jean and I can be present at each service. This one was big for me. I determined after awhile living with this schedule that I could no longer abide the thought that on any given Sunday I was missing seeing up to 1/3 of my worshipping congregation. For a new guy trying to learn your stories and take the journey with you, to miss 1/3 of you a week makes something that in the best of circumstances takes time virtually untenable.

I’ve heard opinions aplenty of what I needed to do about our context. Do we go from 3 services to 2? And if we did, which services got forcibly merged? And what kind of spirit would reign in a service of forcibly merged people? Hmmm. I wonder?

Here’s what I’ve determined. Covenant, regardless of what it was way back when, is this – a congregation of very distinct worship styles each of which deserves expression and the full attention of your pastoral leaders.

My most pressing concern in the proposed change, however, was the impact on our Children and Youth. I asked Zack and Tara to study options with me. Could our ministries on Sundays bear up to this change and find creative ways to accommodate and make consequences of the change a good thing. I believe they have created models where that is the case and I’m thankful for their thoughtful and dedicated work.

From the beginning of my time with you, I’ve asked us to aspire to unity, not uniformity. In fact, it is our diversity of expression and experience that no longer needs to be considered a liability to the Church’s future. I believe it to be among our greatest assets. What will unify us Sunday to Sunday is the presence of our clergy, the creative ways in which classes and small groups form and grow and seed new classes that will form and grow and so on. It is those moments through the year when we all come together and bring a spirit of unity to our common worship experience like we did in August on Rally Sunday (although I promise we won’t go 1:45!).

This recalibration is a corner turned on the cusp of a new year. I invite you, I urge you to join me in it.

Covenant, it’s time.

Right here. Right now.