Friday, September 30, 2005

Sunday's sermon

If we want to learn about faith, holiness, the bible, money, evangelism - and many other subjects - John Wesley is a great source. But when it comes to learning how to lead one's family life, Wesley's example is best taken as how not to do family life.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Katrina Relief Projects

Here's a post from Randy Hageman about some opportunities to help people recover from Hurricane Katrina:
Gateway Community Church (formerly Abundant Life UMC), in conjunction with Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (both Clear Lake area churches) have set up the C.O.R.E. (Christians Organized for Relief Efforts) Base Camp in Ocean Springs, Mississippi at St. Paul’s UMC. This camp is designed to be a staging area for volunteers wanting to help in the relief efforts along the Mississippi Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina. This camp is available to any church group, of any denominational affiliation, as well as community groups and other volunteers, who desire to serve in this area. C.O.R.E. Base Camp is working in conjunction with Jackson County relief efforts and other relief organizations.
 C.O.R.E. Base Camp can now accommodate 200+ volunteers at a time. The camp provides large air-conditioned tents, cots, meals, portable restroom facilities, showers and more to meet the physical needs of volunteers who will serve in weekend and week-long service projects. “This is not your ‘pup-tent’ operation,” said Mike Malkemes, camp director. “One of our tents is 4,000 square feet… with air conditioning!”
 At the present time there are over four hundred projects waiting for volunteers, with each project taking, on average, a couple of days for a team to complete. If you are interested in volunteering there, or taking a group there, go to and click on “Volunteer Information” on the right-hand side. In addition, the camp now has two phone numbers: (228) 875-3416 & (228) 875-3568. The website also offers additional information and pictures about the camp and its mission.
 Obviously there will be significant needs right here in our own conference in the Golden Triangle area. However, for those wishing to serve in Mississippi, or who are interested in serving right now before sites are open in the East Texas and SW Louisiana areas, C.O.R.E. is available.
Grace and Peace,
Randy Hageman
Gateway Community Church
760 Clear Lake City Blvd.
Houston, TX  77598
(713) 551-4800

Quick Thinking

This just in from a friend who wanted to remain anonymous:

City officials of Houston have seen the errors of their ways during the recent hurricane evacuation and have improved the Houston Hurricane Evacuation Plan. Here is the newly developed Houston Hurricane Evacuation Plan:

  • Cajuns use I-10 E to Lafayette
  • Hispanics use I-10W to San Antonio
  • Rednecks use 59N to East Texas
  • Republicans fly Continental to Washington DC
  • Yankees & Democrats use 45 S to Galveston
  • Longhorns use 290 W to Austin
  • Aggies use Loop 610

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

One More Famous Person

Banned Books Week

This is “Banned Books Week.”  Let’s all take a minute to celebrate that in the good ol’ US of A we don’t ban books!  Why, then, have a “Banned Books Week,” you ask?

In honor of freedom of the press and freedom of speech, the American Library Association wants to take this week to proclaim that there are people who complain about what books and videos are in their libraries.  To make the “Banned Books” list all that is required is that someone somewhere has questioned the placement of a book in a library.

We should realize as good Americans that the only persons qualified to choose which books are “in” and which books are not are the librarians.

Clearly censorship is alive and well, at least in my community.  Why, a quick spin on would reveal thousands of books our local librarians do not want us to read!

The librarians who are proudest of their own strategic censorship are the ones who shelve Books in Print. A quick perusal of this compared to their local card catalog or computer equivalent makes it clear our librarians are choosy, choosy, choosy.

So if you find a book that is in your local library and you don’t think it should be, or if you find an erotic thriller shelved in the children’s section and think it inappropriate, You better get an MLS degree before you say anything, otherwise you are BANNING BOOKS!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rita Ramblings, Part 2

If ever you doubted God’s providence, surely you are a believer after the past week!

Less than one week after focusing worship on Jesus’ parable of the Talents and what it means to live in the Kingdom of God, we received an incredible opportunity to put it into practice.

I remember preaching that the Kingdom of God is here, on earth, but its appearance is dependent upon us, as citizens of the Kingdom, to make it visible. We made it visible, beginning last Thursday evening.

After what must have seemed an interminable drive out of the Houston area, over 50 people arrived at our Family Life Center for shelter. Before I returned that evening, you all had opened the building, set up sleeping arrangements, planned and organized meals, and already began to make that place feel more like home than anyone expected.

Many of you have expressed to me that you felt like you received more from stepping up and acting than you could have given to others. That is EXACTLY the point of living the Kingdom; of living in a relationship with God here and now.

All who opened their hearts to our guests quickly realized that we were blessed to be able to do so: not that we are so well off we should help others, but that as recipients of God’s grace, we cannot help but pass it on to others!

I asked in a Monday morning email: “How can we repay our guests, the evacuees, for what they have done for us?” I understand some of you may not have thought of the question this way. I encourage you to consider it too.

Elsewhere in this newsletter you will find one church member’s answer to this question. I received this reply within hours of sending out the email. I encourage you all to answer the question, from your heart. Please write, call, or email me with your answer!

Monday, September 26, 2005


Denmark has an offical state church (of the Lutheran variety). One of their leaders (a custodian) decided years ago that he thought reinarnation was part of Christianity so he started teaching it. The other leaders in the church (pastor, bishop, etc) decided this was inappropriate and excommunicated him, in essence saying, "Reincarnation is not only not a Christian doctrine, but it is a teaching that doesn't fit within Christian doctrine." Well, the custodian took his case to Caesar's courts and was unexcommunicated.

The lesson? When you take Caesar's money (12% of the national church's budget comes from the Caesar), Caesar gets a say in what you do and what you can't do. The Christian tradition might value truth and faithfulness fo Jesus, but Caesar puts a higher value on niceness, lack of conflict and profit.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rita Ramblings

I have been occupied hosting evacuees from south Houston since last Thursday night. I will have many thoughts about sbservations from my experiences, but for now, I'll consider it enough to post these few paragraphs.

First United Methodist Church of McGregor received a great opportunity, to which we have responded, overall, marvelously. We have learned much, and will learn much moreover the coming weeks.

We were blessed to be able to offer shelter, meals, and friendship to over 50 people, many of whom were across a langauge barrier from most of us. Nevertheless, God is so good that we are all in agreement that we have been blessed ourselves in the opportunity.

Rita Destruction

First news on how UM churches have fared in Rita. Susan Buchanan, pastor at Mont Belvieu (east of Houston) has pictures up on the destruction at their church - they lost part of their roof. According to the Beaumont Examiner, FUMC Vidor has some damage (broken stained glass). More folks to pray for.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Preparing for Rita

Blogging on this site has been pretty slow this week. First, I was busy preparing for Sunday's Charge Conference. More recently I've been busy I've been busy preparing for Hurricane Rita. We're 300 miles form the coast, so the major force of the hurricane will be expended before it gets here. Our challenge will be winds (up to 55 mph or more), tornados, and rain. Lots of rain. The models I've seen show Rita parking over NE Texas and potentially dumping 20-30 inches of rain. We're in a drought here, so we need the rain, though if I had my way it'd come in smaller increments.

In the meantime, we prepare to host evacuees from the coastal areas. Our church is the number 3 shelter in town. Since Pittsburg is somewhat off the main highways, the State has not been directing people here yet. Instead we're getting self-evacuees. If you'd like to follow the action in Pittsburg, check out my other blog, Pittsburg Cares.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Strategic Mapping Presentation

Last week Bishop Huie met with leaders from churches all around the Texas Conference in a series of district and bi-district gatherings. She and conference treasurer Elijah Stansell presented an overview of the work of the Strategic Mapping Team, material to be formally presented and voted on at a called session of Annual Conference November 19.

The current reality that led Bishop Huie to this plan includes:
Demographic Changes
  • Population within the span of the Conference grew 40% from 1980 to 2000

  • A further 30% growth (2 million people) is predicted by 2020 [I’m sure these figures don’t include possible realignment of population after Hurricane Katrina]

  • The majority of the population in many counties will be non-Anglo

Population Growth Outpaces Conference Growth
  • From 2000 to 2004 the population grew 5.3% while membership in our churches only grew 3%.

  • As a percentage of the area population, Conference membership dropped from 4% in 2000 to 3.9% in 2004. It has been dropping since the early 1960s

Future Indicators from Church Statistics
  • Attendance is down by .06%

  • Professions of faith down 13%

  • Baptisms down 14.4%

  • Confirmation class enrollment down 8.9%

  • In the Texarkana District our membership is down over 6%, and attendance down over 5%.

  • [Unmentioned at the meeting but something to keep in mind is that because our churches average not much more than a third of their membership in attendance, membership figures are not a really good indicator of our strength.]

Worship Attendance
  • 79% of Conference churches report worship attendance of less than 150

  • Only 4% of our churches report attendance greater than 750.

In light of these realities, Bishop Huie sees us standing at a crossroads. We can maintain the status quo and slowly die or we can re-tool, take up our mission to make disciples, and make a better future.

Preliminary Recommendations
Vision: Vibrant, growing congregations changing lives and reshaping futures for Jesus Christ. [Perhaps this is a little less Christianese than “making disciples,” but covers the same territory. By speaking of “reshaping futures” it could be taken to apply not merely to individuals but also to families and communities.]
Mission: [Keep in mind that this is the mission of the Annual Conference] To equip congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world to the glory of God. [In my seminary class on the UM doctrine and discipline, I was taught that the Annual Conference is the primary level of United Methodism. Now that we have – since 1988 – declared that the mission of the UMC is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ,” we are finally beginning to act on the necessary conviction that the local church is the primary place where the mission is fulfilled, i.e., where disciples are made. If we can say this and implement these changes without bringing up the bogeyman of “congregationalism” we’ll all be the better for it.]

The Strategic Mapping Team identified 4 “Key Drivers” that would provide that engines of change:
  • Spirit- Filled

  • Excellence

  • Fruitfulness

  • [the word “mutual” was added in our discussion] Accountability

[I think I know what they’re getting at here, but it would be more elegant if all the four were the same part of speech. As it is here, we have three nouns and an adjective.]

The Core Values that accompany this mission include the five Bishop Huie announced at Annual Conference this past spring and two additional:
  • Radical hospitality

  • Passionate worship

  • Faith-forming relationships

  • Risk-taking mission

  • Extravagant generosity

  • Connectional ministry

  • Fervent prayer and diligent study of scripture

Given this broad framework, the Team has identified three “Strategic Themes”:
Congregational Excellence – Revitalize existing congregations and start new churches

  • How do we lead congregations to revitalize and how do we reach unserved resident populations?

  • Equip local congregations to be vibrant and grow

  • Identify and prioritize resident populations and start new churches

  • Implement plan from the Congregational Development Task Force [This is found in the Conference Journal. The particulars there include the need for a Congregational Development staff person and a time line through June 2006. So when we’re asked to approve the implementation of this plan, we do not yet have any details to approve.]

  • What processes must be in place for congregational development?

  • Develop a congregational assessment process: Assess, evaluate, educate [Various tools are available already: Christian Schwarz’s Natural Church Development and Bill Easum’s Complete Ministry Audit come to mind. At some point we’ll have to develop a clear and shared vision of what a healthy congregation looks like. Another thing that will happen here: Just as some pastors kill church after church, there are some churches that kill pastor after pastor. Below we’ll see that leadership accountability is a key feature of the plan. That’s absolutely the right thing to do. But if the cabinet has a skewed understanding of a congregation’s current reality while holding pastors accountable for achieving particular results, this is a recipe for pastoral depression and failure. We need to learn to tell the truth here. If we want energized, enthusiastic pastors who will lead their churches to revitalization and growth, we must stop identifying every appointment merely as “a great opportunity.”]

  • Develop an effective conference structure that provides resources for transformation [well, yeah!]

  • Identify and prioritize resident populations [The assumptions is that new residential developments will not be the only place to plant churches. Instead we’ll find people who do not currently have a church and plant one to reach them.]

  • How will we control costs while promoting congregational development? [One way some people will ask this is, “How will we be able to pay for everything we’re already doing and pay for all this new stuff?” The obvious answer – at least to me – is that we’ll have to identify a bunch of stuff we’ll no longer do.]

  • Reallocate Annual Conference funds

  • Utilize fixed assets

  • Develop volunteer partnerships

  • As an Annual Conference, what must we learn and how must we grow in order to add value?

  • Education measures for determining church vitality

  • Models for new church starts for identified populations

Clergy Leadership: Ensure all clergy are effective in their settings

  • How do we improve clergy leadership in the Texas Annual Conference?

  • Affirm the giftedness of each clergy person [as we see below this additionally means, “Even if that giftedness is more in line with selling insurance than pastoring.”]

  • Equip clergy with resources for professional development

  • Recruit gifted and talented candidates for ministry [IF we can carry this thing off, my guess is talented people will come flocking, given the moribund status of so many annual conferences.]

  • Equip clergy to develop fruitful law leadership within their congregation

  • What processes must we master in order to improve the clergy of the Texas Annual Conference

  • Identify potential clergy [Some of our Wesley Foundations have highly productive in this area. What about the others?]

  • Affirm gifts [Wow! We’re doing it again already!]

  • Assessment and accountability

  • Recruitment of gifted pastors [Steal them from other conferences? If we’re aiming to reach the burgeoning Hispanic population, this might mean importing pastors from Mexico and Central America. Are we willing to open the way for non-middle class Americans to enter the ministry track?]

  • Training and coaching

  • Placement

  • Exit strategies

  • Attract new clergy to the TAC

  • [What about the seminaries? Are they doing an adequate job training pastors to do what needs to be done? If not, what are we going to do about it?]

  • How can we fund these activities?

  • Utilize current funding streams

  • Initiate grants and alternative funding

  • What do we need to learn in order to improve clergy leadership of the TAC in a time of change?

  • Develop pro-active mentality, skills, and mechanisms for recruiting candidates for ministry

  • More effective assessment strategies

  • Effective and diverse professional opportunities

  • Improve skills in management of change

  • More effective coaching

  • More effectively match gifts with ministry opportunities [The salary sheet is not enough.]

Effective Missional Structure: To create a structure that serves the mission of the TAC

  • How can the structure of the TAC serve and support local congregations?

  • Redefine the organizational structure of the AC Service Center to add value to congregations [One way to do this is to find ways to project mobility over immobility.]

  • Redefine the role of the District Superintendent to add value to the local church {Of course this will include freeing them from obligations to attend every meeting in the Conference.]

  • Expand office of ministerial services to promote clergy leadership

  • Create leadership office for revitalization and church starts

  • Create leadership office for visioning and implementation

  • How can we develop processes to increase support for the local congregation?

  • Evaluate current AC structure

  • Create an assessment for on-going ministries [This is a positive way to say, “Find things to stop doing.”]

  • Adopt the necessary change to accomplish an effective structure [I think this just means “change.”]

  • How can we be good stewards in funding a structure that supports the TAC mission?

  • Assess all Conference expenses [Surely we can get by with fewer meetings. Surely we can get by with fewer people at each meeting. Surely we can use Internet technology to have more online conferences. Web cams are cheap.]

  • Reduce the number of districts and reallocate funds [They mentioned going from 12 to 9. Each DS now costs about $175k]

  • Sunset activities and reallocate funds [This will be painful when for so many years our mission has been “to do what we’ve always done.”]

  • Identify tasks for possible outsourcing

  • Develop an assessment strategy for future allocations related to vacant properties, churches, etc.

  • Utilize current fixed assets

  • Create a plan for funding new church starts and for revitalization [After Rita we might have to raise millions to rebuild structures we though were already established and in place.]

  • What do we need to learn in order to create a structure that serves the mission of the TAC?

  • Benchmark best practices with other Annual Conferences, businesses, and other denominations

  • Ongoing study and understanding of changing demographics of TAC

  • Develop processes for continual assessment and improvement of structure

  • Skills for leading major change initiatives

My concluding comment: Sure there’s plenty of vagueness here. But as I look around the UMC I see nothing approaching this level of seriousness. It’ll be terribly difficult, but I think we need to do it.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sunday Sermon

Sunday sermon is now available - It's Learning From John Wesley: Money. The main text is Matthew 6:19-34, but I start with Ephesians 6:10. The pivot text is Matthew 6:24 - "You cannot serve both God and Money [Mammon]."

I suggested first, that mammon is at least akin to one of the principalities and powers that is arrayed against us. These powers, though created good (Colossians 1:16), have been corrupted by sin. Money, wealth and riches are conceivably good for us. I can imagine God thinking that money would be a good feature of a complex economy. But it went bad. Like the other principalities and powers, it was defeated by Jesus on the cross (Colossians 2:15).

I also made the distinction between active sin and passive sin, modeled on the old distinction between Jesus' active and passive obedience. This distinction is different from the common one of sins of commission and sins of omission. By my reckoning both of those are active sin. Passive sin is the sin we suffer - the sin of other people that impacts us - the destruction that comes to us from living in a broken world. The salvation Jesus brings offers us salvation from both kinds of sin. One support I see for this position is found in N.T. Wright's works. He claims that the phrase "forgiveness of sins" goes beyond referring to forgiveness of an individual's sinful actions to mean something like "return from exile." Exile in this case is suffering for sins - sometimes your own, often form the sins of others.

As a power lined up against us, Mammon has been defeated by Jesus. Like at least some of the other powers, however, Mammon is still on the scene trying to destroy our lives. As we "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness," we please God, live the good life, and frustrate Mammon. For more on how this message build on Wesley see my earlier discussion.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Facing down intimidation

I’m going through a challenging time right now. I usually approach the world through knowledge and I find myself in a place where my knowledge is woefully inadequate. Tomorrow I will be fasting and praying for wisdom. Tonight, though, I picked up Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. I hadn’t read in it for a couple of weeks, but tonight it jumped out at me and the first thing I read was exactly what I needed to hear. Peterson says,
It always appears that history is dominated by powerful forces that totally overshadow people of faith in God: powerful politicians, powerful armies, powerful financiers, powerful institutions [and arson attacks]. What good are prayer and worship compared to these “principalities and powers”? The temptation, then, is to live small, settle for domestic coziness, retreat to the sidelines, create a ghetto in which we can carry out our life of faith in God with as little interference as possible from “the world.”

Timid people (intimidated people) often secretly admire those whom they fear. They constantly compare themselves unfavorably with them, but would very much like to be one of them. As a consequence their imaginations are shaped by a history that exhibits the power of the human and has no sense of God’s presence and action in it. They are left with a feeling that God is involved only in the privacies and domesticities of their inner lives – what they think of as their souls.
Whoever the person who burned down our youth building this summer, the ultimate agency was satanic. If satan would be concerned enough to attack us in this way, it seems unlikely he would make the one hit and then give up. But there are many ways to hit, and the hits continue – mostly through personal attacks on our leaders.

In the midst of these attacks, from God’s perspective we are going through a time of testing. Will we pass the test? Will our faith in God be our strength – rather than our plans and dependence on our abilities (and insurance)? Will we be single minded about pursuing our (God’s) mission of reaching people for Jesus? Will we stay united in love with each other? That’s my prayer.

Charge Conference

FUMC Pittsburg has Charge Conference in just over a week. Here’s my communication to them about the meeting.

When: Next Sunday, September 25, at 9:00 a.m. Because of this odd hour, we will not have Sunday school that day and our single worship service will be at 10:30, after the Conference.
Where: In the Sanctuary
Who: I’ve asked Howdy Dawson, our District Superintendent (who presides over the meeting) to consider this a Church Conference. As a Church Conference, all full members of the church, regardless of age, are welcome to attend and vote.
What: Here are the main things that we do at Charge Conference:
  • Hear reports summarizing our ministry for the year

  • See the budget for the coming year

  • Elect the slate of leaders for the coming year

  • Make decisions on big issues facing the congregation
Why: The first answer is that the United Methodist system requires it. The better answer is that God has called us together to be one body in Christ. None of us alone has the wisdom and faith necessary to proceed. As we discern God’s will together we do much better than we ever would alone.
Dangers: There are several dangers associated with Charge Conferences.
  • Sometimes strong emotions are present. God made us to be emotional beings, so there is nothing wrong with emotions. Danger arises when we give them control over our actions.

  • Sometimes the way we do meetings leads us to believe churches are another example of American democracy at work. The church is not a democracy. We give our allegiance to the Kingdom of God. We are servants of a King. What the King says counts for more than what we say. Nonetheless, God likes to work through his people, especially the weak.

  • We will be contending with other gods who do not like us on their turf. One of those false gods is Mammon – money. When Mammon accompanies us to church we usually end up fighting, bickering, and fearful. The alternative – which will frustrate Mammon – is learning to trust and obey God in the area of money, a challenge for the rich and poor alike.

  • When we mix strong feelings, personalities, decision-making and fear, non-Christian behavior often results. We attack each other. We forget love. We forget our purpose. We forget Jesus – except when we find him useful for achieving our desires.
This year’s big issues:
  • Election of leaders. Since we’re in the people business, what we do with people is the most important thing we do. When we elect leaders, we’re not looking for representatives of various constituencies or for our favorites. We’re looking for people sold out to Jesus who will lead us in the fulfillment of our mission. This is hard work.

  • Building stuff. The end of the sanctuary renovation (building, windows, organ) is in sight. But now we have to replace the sanctuary roof and our youth building is burned down. What is our next step? What does God want us to do?

  • Pursuing unity. You cannot read the letters to the early churches and not see God’s concern for unity. The three foundations of this unity are: (1) Our common sharing in Christ through the Holy Spirit; (2) Our sharing of a common mission of making disciples; (3) Our growing and abiding love for each other.
  • Pray. Pray hard. Submit yourself to the Lord.

  • Come. You are a part of the Body. We might need God speaking through you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Youth and Ministry

Another point Carol Lytch draws from Smith and Lundquist ( (“What Teens Believe,” Christian Century, Sept. 6, 2005) is one I made early this summer. In Lytch’s words, “teenagers… are not a people apart, an alien race about whom adults can only shake their heads and look forward to their growing up.”

The parents of the Baby Boomers created the myth of the generation gap, perhaps because it was easier than admitting they, too, had once faced the kinds of decisions and perplexities facing their children.

Can we all just agree we are over that now? Newsflash: today’s parents of teens were once teens ourselves. We were tempted by drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll too. Just like today’s teens, we struggled to try to fit in with our peers and at the same time find some kind of credibility with the adult world. We, too, had a naïve and idealistic view of the world that we couldn’t get the older folks to understand.

Young people today deserve to know, and know that we know, that they are not some alien race totally disconnected from all adults in society. They are a younger version of us. Let’s deal with it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Attracting a Crowd

When UMs talk about growing and exciting UM churches they tend to point to Ginghamsburg, Church of the Resurrection, and Windsor Village. I've heard almost no mention of Granger Community Church (in Indiana) in UM circles, though I hear about it all the time from non-UM sources. Curious, isn't it?

Here's a piece by some of the Granger crew on "Attracting a Crowd to Your Church." Some of there advice sounds downright manipulative:
Worship services must be upbeat to encourage guests to come back. The worship may be meaningful, but if people are less energized when they leave than when they arrived, what good is that? The message may be full of truth, but if listeners are thinking of their to-do lists for after church, what good is that? Services that lack energy will not be attractive to people who are deciding whether to return.

Here are some ways to raise the energy level in worship:

• Begin by pumping up the volume. The impact of the same song sung by the same talented artists played at the same tempo will vary according to the volume. Louder music creates more energy. You should also consider the volume of the music played before and after the service. If it’s loud, people will begin to talk over the music, and the energy level in the room will increase.

• Increase the tempo of the music. When you’re trying to create introspective moments, a slower, more contemplative selection is appropriate. Generally, however, songs that are upbeat and more celebratory in nature will generate a positive response from the cogregation. People will become more engaged in the service when they feel comfortable clapping their hands and tapping their feet as they sing.

• Add smiling faces to the platform, and make sure those faces are well lit. Your musicians and vocalists shouldn’t just rehearse their music; they should also practice looking happy. Happiness is contagious. Also, the lighting on the platform should be bright enough and positioned so that those watching can see the facial expressions of the vocalists and the teachers.

In addition to these factors, make sure you’re strategically using humor, paying attention to the pace of the service, and making effective use of variety. All of these will help you reduce the drool factor and fuel the energy levels in your services. That’s helpful for growing a crowd, and it reduces the possibility of sugarplums doing the boot-scootin’ boogie in your head.
I suppose we can safely assume that all the people we're trying to attract are of a particular generation that is turned on by noise (oops! loud music). If you can't have the Holy Spirit or spiritual substance, at least pump up the volume. As for happy faces, I suppose they're better than unhappy faces. Even if they have to fake it.

They then turn to subjects to address, advocating the "felt needs" approach:
So what do pre-Christians need? What will get their attention? Here’s a short list:

• They need help with their marriages.
• They don’t know how to raise their kids.
• They aren’t sure how to handle their teenagers.
• They want their lives to count.
• They want to live within their means.
• They want help being better employers or employees.
• They’re beaten down and need encouragement.
• They’ve messed up and need forgiveness.
• They’ve been betrayed and need to know that Someone can be trusted.
• They’ve been through a crisis and need to make sense of it.

These are just a few of the issues people face. Does the Bible have anything to say about these topics? Can Jesus Christ give people strength and wisdom to deal with their marriages? their kids? their money? Absolutely!
Preaching biblical wisdom is essential, not merely as a tactic for increasing the crowd, but for building disciples. Unfortunately, when needs are defined by what non-Christians feel, it is very easy to end up with a variant of Moral Therapeutic Deism - and a god who serves as a butler to meet our every need. He's there not only to help us with our marriages, kids and finances, but also to help us feel better and - getting more spiritual - to give us eternal life. If we're going to successfully preach biblical wisdom, we will have to find ways to simultaneously take apart the secular narratives and world views people come in with, so they don't just become innoculated against the faith.

Their next point I agree with whole-heartedly: go to multiple services. It's more work for those of us on a church staff, but it's worth it.

Next they tell us to "Embrace Entertainment:"
We’ve heard people say, “Your church is about entertainment.” And they’re right in a way. We are about entertainment to the extent that it allows us to captivate the minds and hearts of those who don’t yet know Jesus. Yes, we still talk about all the tough topics. In fact, we’re positive we’ve taught about every topic Jesus covered in the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve talked about sin, broken relationships, heaven and hell, the end times, the need for a Savior, and the cost of following Christ. There is a way, however, to present biblical truth so that a crowd shows up. There’s a way to offer a new life in Christ without dulling the minds of those who need him most. And sometimes that way can be downright entertaining.
I'm against entertaining in church. I'm all for captivating people with the Gospel. So - if as these guys claim - entertainment is about grabbing and holding people's attention, I'm all for it. Long gone are the days when we could depend on people coming to church with a sense of duty to listen. Every time I stand before my people I work from the assumption that I have to earn their attention.

They have more to say, so go read the article. Although much of their style is not mine, and I think much of what they are doing would be significantly easier in a new church plant (than a 150 year old congregation), I'm all for what they're doing. Go get 'em Granger!


I ran across MTD, or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in Carol Lytch's article, "What Teens Believe" in the Christian Century. In this areticle she reviews Christian Smith and Melinda Lunddquist Denton's work with youth, published in their Soul Searching: The Religious And Spiritual Lives Of American Teenagers. (Oxford, 2005).

Smith and Denton identify the predominant "religion" of American teens as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. They surveyed 3000 teens between ages 13 and 17. Here are the tenets of the "faith" they compiled:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to solve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
What troubles me most about MTD is it seems a clear and concise articulation of the alleged faith of the average churchmember!

Monday, September 12, 2005


Within modern philosophy (of the past couple of generations), there have been (broadly speaking) Realist and anti-Realist approaches to knowledge. The Realist claims that we have varying degrees of access to a world outside of us - that our knowledge of the world and its states can be more or less true. Anti-Realists take the opposite view: more or less, we do not succeed in making true statements about the world outside us. What we take to be statements about the world (outside us) are actually statements about what is inside us, either from an individual perspective or from a socio-cultural perspective.

Both approaches, as developed in the 20th century, were outgrowths or variants of foundationalism. Realists tended to be optimistic about whether foundationalist strategies of knowing worked while the anti-Realists tended to be pessimistic about those strategies. They agreed, however, that these strategies alone constituted real knowledge.

But then, oddly enough, some philosophers began to reject (either explicitly or implicitly) foundationalism. Those mired in foundationalism have trouble seeing any other way of approaching the issue, so when they hear (or read) these post-foundationalists they tend to take them to be speaking either (foundationalist) Realism or (foundationalist) anti-Realism. But they're not.

One position that has arisen in this discussion has been called anti-anti-Realism. These folks don't care to defend a Realism (which they see as hopelessly mired in failed foundationalist strategies), but see the fruits of anti-realism as unfavorable. They tend to say that however we do it, we generally can know the world well enough to do what we need to do, and since it works, it ought to be acceptable to call the related knowledge claims "truth."

Anti-anti-Realism. Sounds pretty negative, doesn't it? But it's not.

Let's shift gears and aply negative thinking to another area, the Christian approach to politics. Within the contemporary theological movement called Radical Orthodoxy, there has been a strong critique of both the modern nation-state and the modern market economy. In the books I've read, I see this most clearly in William Cavanaugh's Theolopolitical Imagination. In Cavanaugh's account, the modern state is idolatrous because its claims constitute a claim to be the savior of the world. This claim is not peculiar to the modern state - as Tom Wright frequently says, the language we associate with Jesus - "Lord and Savior," "Good News (Gospel)" - were originally Caesar's words. Caesar claimed to be "Lord and Savior" and to bring "Good news" to all people. Perhaps you know enough history to know not all people took him at his word.

If I were talking more about Cavanaugh and Radical Orthodoxy, I want to say something about their apparent oversimplification of both the State and the Market, not attending enough to the complexity and diversity of the development of each. But I have to think they're at least partly right.

What I'm thinking of - negatively - is how Christians who are conservative politically tend to think negatively toward the State, while Christians who are liberal politically tend to think negatively toward the market. As one who tends (boy I use that word a lot, don't I?) to be the former more than the latter, I have to confess I see both making claims beyond what they can do - claims that if not idolatrous, at least verge on it.

Consider Katrina. We actually expect the State to be our savior. We expect the leaders of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Federal Government to be able to save us not only from natural disaster but also from our own actions.

Whenever elections come, Caesar hypes his abilities, promising to meet all our needs (while Mammon keeps transforming our wants into needs), strengthening our expectations of deliverance and salvation.

If I went by nothing other than what I see, I'd have trouble believing Caesar. As a Christian, my allegiance is to Jesus the cruficied and risen.

The market doesn't fare much better. It claims to be able to settle all disputes and bring prosperity to all with its invisible hand(s?).

So are the State and the Market irretrievable evil? I don't think so. They simply don't deserve the level of confidence (and worship) they ask for (demand?). Submission to Jesus and his kingdom is a necessary prerequisite to having a truly healthy state and market.

So like the anti-anti-realists, I denounce the claims of both State and Market, seeing neither as god and savior. How's that for negative thinking?

Rhetorical problems

It is Senator Pat Leahy's turn to climb onto the pedestal that is the Confirmation Hearings of John Roberts. (Why U.S. Senators need the extra time on the pedestal, I do not know)

In his speech, which is still going on, he referred to the relief efforts on the gulf coast. He said that, among other things, this disaster has shown the "growing poverty" of many in this country.

Excuse my ignorance, but how have these past two weeks shown that poverty as a problem is growing? Did Sen. Leahy do a double-blind peer-reviewed study with a variety of cities over a couple of decades to reach his conclusions?

It is just rhetoric, you may say. But someone way get hold of that statement, and quote the "authority" of the U.S. Senate that poverty is growing. I know it is a bold claim that will, no doubt, fall on deaf ears. but could we not ask all our politicians and leaders to be careful what they say?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Religion of Peace?

One of the silly things bandied about since 9-11 has been that Islam is a "religion of peace." Certainly peace has a place in Islam. As far as I can tell, peace has a place in most of the things we call religions. But the presence of that single word (in English translation, of course) doesn't tell us very much. In today's Al Qaeda message, for example, we're told:
"Yesterday, London and Madrid. Tomorrow, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Allah willing. And this time, don't count on us demonstrating restraint or compassion," the tape warns. "We are Muslims. We love peace, but peace on our terms, peace as laid down by Islam, not the so-called peace of occupiers and dictators."
At least one self-avowed Muslim admits that there is more than one kind of peace. As Steve observed a couple of weeks ago (talking about the word "god"), the mere use of a word doesn't get us anywhere. We have to do the hard work of contextualizing the word and figuring out what it means and how it functions.

Sermon of the week

I agree with Skevington Wood that "evangelist" may be the best one word description of John Wesley. Here's my account of John Wesley on evangelism.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Texas Conference Katrina Update

On a daily basis, our plans change as we become more involved in providing help and support to our brothers and sisters from New Orleans.

Future training will become general volunteer training.  We will still do some of the cooking and food preparation, but will be asked to do other tasks as needed.  We still need 240 volunteers per shift for the three regular shifts.  An additional shift has been added - 10 p.m.-4 a.m. The number of volunteers have not been determined for this shift.

A plan for organizing United Methodist volunteers for work at the George R. Brown Convention Center is as follows:

Wednesday, September 14 - Houston South District
Thursday, September 15  -  Houston East District
Friday, September 16  -  Houston Northwest District
Saturday, September 17  -  St. Luke UMC
Sunday, September 18  -  Windsor Village UMC
Monday, September 19  -  Houston Southwest
Tuesday, September 20  -  Houston North

We will staff four daily shifts:  4 a.m.-10 a.m.; 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; 4 p.m.-10 p.m., and 10 p.m.-4 a.m.  There will be six feeding trailers with each trailer having a team of 40 volunteers per shift.  Each of the trailers will be supervised by 5-6 Disaster Relief members.  Each trailer can serve 20,000 meals per day.  We are not responsible for meal planning and food purchase.  Food service in this way can be provided for about $1.75 per meal.

Volunteers from any United Methodist Church in any part of this conference are welcome to be a part of this effort.  Please e-mail the district office or church for the day you want to serve.  If you can't work on "your district's day, follow the same instructions.

"The churches are responding in a great way to the appeal for support," says Bishop Huie.  "Your faithfulness and generosity is truly appreciated."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Learning from Katrina

Many are writing about lessons learned from our experience with Hurricane Katrina and it’s aftermath. Here are a few things I’ve observed.

  1. People procrastinate. Whether it’s evacuating or ordering evacuations or any of the myriad other things that weren’t done in a timely manner, people tend to wait until “later.” Which is often too late.

  2. Our culture is still consumed with race. I’ve been around enough to know that racism is real and still a factor in many parts of our country. Unfortunately, it is not just the “direct” racists – those who think negatively about a particular group of people – who cause difficulties. Because racism is a real problem – and many want to be good and sensitive – we find many subjects we think about but feel we can’t talk about for fear of offending. Take the word “refugee.” Consulting its etymology, one might think it means “one who seeks refuge.” I can imagine seeking refuge myself, and can’t imagine any negative connotation if I found myself seeking refuge. But from what I read many do take offense, finding it racist and not appropriate for describing any American. Not being married to the word, I’m trying to use the “correct” (at least last I heard) term, “evacuee.” Surely many have been evacuated, so it seems a fine term, though the passivity so easily inferred from its use may be taken as offensive by others.

  3. Leaders – for the most part – dare not take responsibility for their actions. If they do, the first response is to cry “Impeach/fire/remove/convict” while the second is a lawsuit. Or multiple lawsuits. Any why not? When the only standard is perfection, and someone has publicly confessed a mistake, surely they must be held responsible. Two leaders who seem to have acted fearlessly, however, are Houston Mayor Bill White and our Texas Conference Bishop Janice Riggle Huie. Both have seriously committed -  and inconvenienced – their constituencies to do the right thing. Will there be negative consequences? Probably, but they consider that a small price to pay for doing the right thing.

  4. The giving capacity in Texas (at least – this is the state I live in and am familiar with) is larger than the need. Many have lamented that in the GWOT (Global War On Terror), and particularly in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, most Americans aren’t suffering much at all, not sacrificing or being asked to sacrifice, like they were in the “good old days” of World War 2 with its rationing and mass conscription. Why should we consider it a bad thing that our capacity is so much larger now than it used to be? Whether the GWOT in its various manifestations is a Just War or not, one of the criteria in Just War theory is proportionality. While an effort proportionate to that of World War 2 may result in a quicker victory, I’m not sure it would be a good victory. We are discovering that we can do more than we thought we could. That leads into the next point.

  5. Not every good thing can or should be done. First, there are competing goods. The good of increased refining capacity and energy production competes with the good of environmental protection. Entirely maximizing one or the other will kill many people. Second, I do not subscribe to the theory that government cannot do every good thing. Some good things are beyond the capacity of government – raising children, for example. Government also cannot protect people from their own willfulness (and stupidity) in every case. Reality has consequences. Though government can and should mitigate some consequences, it will be immoral (and deadly in the long run) for government to mitigate all consequences.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Segregated Katrina Relief

I have been working among the many churches in the Waco area in our cooperative planning for receiving and offering aid and shelter to evacuees from hurricane Katrina's wake.

Several churches that have opened as shelters have done so in a very discriminatory way. There is a segment of the population that is strictly unwelcome in these shelters. People who will be turned away. It is ok, they say, because "there are other shelters for those people."

The rejected class is those who are single. Some churches are setting up specifically and only for families, and thus are intentionally exluding single people.

When I asked about this prejudice, I was told it was valid because "You couldn't trust an 18 year old single man in a shelter with women and teenage girls."

....And I suppose you can't trust any pastors because Jim Bakker once had an affair.

Curious thing is, one of these churches put out a call for clergy to call and volunteer to help with counseling. I was going to call until I realized I wasn't welcome there. I'm single.

Episcopal Response to hurricane Katrina by Bishop Ben Chamness

Dear United Methodists in the Central Texas Conference:

What a great spirit there is as United Methodists of this region respond to the needs of our neighbors from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. I have mixed emotions these days. It is painful to see people suffer the way so many have as a result of the Hurricane Katrina and the broken levees in New Orleans. People are without food, clothes, medicine, and a place to call home. They have been dispersed all over the State of Texas and to many other parts of the United States as well.

On the other hand, I have witnessed the generosity of our people who open their homes, churches, and other public buildings to try to comfort and help the evacuees. As explained elsewhere on this website (, we have churches who are housing evacuees, churches that are serving food, churches that are collecting flood buckets, medical kits, and money to provide for the needs of those hit the hardest.

UMCOR has been on the ground on our behalf from the very beginning of the crisis in those states affected. They will continue to be there long after the media has left the people and the areas to recover on their own. UMCOR reaches those who may not have been reached by other service agencies.

In addition, Jennifer Coggins, CTC Director of Humanitarian Services, has been organizing and coordinating efforts on our behalf, along with Rev. Chuck Graff, Chair of the CTC Disaster Response Committee. I encourage you to continue working through Jennifer’s office (817-877-5222) to offer your services, to report what your church or group is doing in this effort, and to find support and coordination of our efforts.

The spirit that I have witnessed among our people is, no doubt, inspired by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who reached out to people in their greatest need. How greatly that spirit has been needed in this crisis, and how greatly it will be needed in the months ahead as many of these people and others will need comfort, support, and encouraging words. You are a great people of faith, and I am confident that you will continue to step forward when the need presents itself.


Ben R. Chamness, Bishop

Fort Worth Area
Central Texas Conference

Persecution ok, as long as it's legal

I think our country’s love of law has gone overboard. In Christianity Today we read of the case of Xiaodong Li, a Chinese Christian criminal, arrested and tortured for have a Christian gathering in his home. China, a country estimated to have at least 100 million Christians, strictly controls religion (they’ll also go after the Muslims & Falun Gong), allowing only registered, that is, government supervised, churches.

After his time of arrest and torture, Li managed to make his way to the US, eventually applying for asylum. The courts are deciding against him however, claiming that China has a right to make and enforce its laws, laws that Li broke Because Li broke the law, it is not persecution he faces, but prosecution. Li continues his appeals (the latest to rule against him was a panel from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals) but I wonder what China and other nations that systematically practice persecution think. They have long known that we (usually) don’t approve of persecution. They have also long known that we won’t let their practices get in the way of our pursuit of mammon. Now they know that we’ll even send them their victims for repeat treatment.

UPDATE: One of the consequences of operating in China is going by China's laws. Sounds reasonable. But what happens when those laws lead to prison for a person whose crime is no crime in our eyes? Recently journalist Shi Tao was convicted of "passing state secrets" on the basis of information provided by Yahoo. "Passing state secrets" in China means talking about things the world doesn't want you to talk about, in this case a ban on media mention of the 15th anniversary of the Tianenmen Square massacre. So what are companies like Yahoo to do? Well, they could forego the profit and stay out of China until China is willing to play by the rules Yahoo likes (Or are the most important rules about making a profit?). Perhaps Yahoo thinks the best way to bring change in China is to engage with the system - play by the rules and use its influence to bring change over time.

Monday, September 05, 2005

"God is Great" means "Plunder the Christians"?

A Palestinian woman had a romance with a Palestinian man. Problem was that she was a Muslim and he was a Christian. Her family took the honorable way out - they killed her. Authorities heard something was up and decided to investigate. To impede the investigation, the family then riled up the neighborhood to go on a rampage through the Christian town, destroying and burning as they shouted "God is Great." Those who are trying to build a Palestinian State certainly have their work cut out for them.

Is Education the Answer?

Just caught a discussion on the evacuation of New Orleans. The question was what ought to be done with those who are still refusing to leave their homes? The answer was something to this effect: "Since last hurricane season we have been educating people about the dangers and difficulties of hurricanes."

Are we to assume that if everyone really understands that hurricanes are dangerous they will then choose to abandon their homes and property? Could there be more issues than simply an academic understanding of the strength of storms?

We must bash the Modern expectation that education is the answer. Education is beneficial, but not sufficient.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sunday Sermon - John Wesley on the Christian Life

An Episcopal Letter to the Texas Annual Conference Churche

An Episcopal Letter to the Texas Annual Conference Churches
Sunday Morning
September 4, 2005
<> Dear United Methodist Brothers and Sisters,<>

Resurrection Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I write to all of you this day to tell you that truly we "have seen the Lord" in caring for our sisters and brothers of New Orleans. A friend commented to me earlier this week, "It is in times like this that one can see the true soul of a people and an institution." Your souls are surely shining.

Many of you are personally in the thick of caring for displaced citizens. I have the privilege-when I'm not organizing volunteers and caring for folks like the rest of you-the privilege of seeing a larger view of the whole Texas Annual Conference in action. Even my own view is still partial, but I wanted to share with you some of what I know.

Here is a quick picture of the people of the United Methodist Church in action:

" It is my understanding that churches in every district are now directly engaged in caring for displaced citizens. All the churches which were designated Red Cross shelters prior to Hurricane Katrina are at capacity or more. We do not have anything approaching a complete listing, but I am aware that churches small and large have spontaneously opened their doors. Dr. Earl Bledsoe reports that Aldersgate UMC in Bryan has moved out of its Worship Center to fill it with cots; they will worship in their Fellowship Hall today and invite evacuees to join them. Christ UMC is now housing numerous special needs individuals. Dr. Richard Burnham reports that Wesley in Beaumont is housing approximately 50 Hondurans. The list goes on and on. The Conference Office will be working to compile a more complete list by next week.

" St. Luke's UMC staff and volunteers have been "on the floor" of the Astrodome since before it received it first guest. They are helping to set up the infrastructure to serve a small city. Susan Silvus, director of outreach at St. Luke's, greeted a young woman carrying a baby when they stepped off a bus. "I asked her how I could help her," said Silvus. "She handed me a package of diapers and a can of Similac, and that is all she had. All." My husband Bob reports that more than half the cots seem to be occupied by children.

" Numerous churches are engaged in feeding ministries. Congregation members are working at Red Cross shelters.

" Lakeview Conference Center received 106 special needs displaced citizens of New Orleans. These persons were part of a small group living situation in New Orleans. All require special assistance.

" The Methodist Hospitals are another shining face of the people of the United Methodist Church. Dr. Charles Millikan reported that as of yesterday, the downtown hospital alone had received well over 300 persons. The first 200 arrived beginning at 11pm. Some of the finest doctors, nurses and medical technicians in the world came back to the hospital and worked until every person was properly cared for.

In addition, many individuals and families have been in need of pastoral care. For example, Dr. Millikan told me the heart-breaking story of working with a mother who had gotten separated from her seven children. She believes they might not have survived.

" Methodist Retirement Communities has now received 80 persons into various facilities in the conference. It has been my understanding that they are referrals from The Methodist Hospital. I have no further details here.

" Lon Morris College in Jacksonville has invited displaced students of Dillard University in New Orleans to attend Lon Morris with free room, board and tuition. They are planning to send a bus to Baton Rouge to be able to transport people.

" Volunteers from Houston area congregations are attending training sessions for food service at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Dr. Ed Young reported that 4,870 people from many faith communities attended the first session. They are expecting over 6,000 persons today.

Throughout the Conference, congregations are in the process of raising $1,000,000. I am aware of several congregations dedicating their entire offering today to assist in this relief effort. The people of The United Methodist Church have great hearts. I am absolutely confident that the Texas Annual Conference will reach its goal.

You and I have an opportunity to practice radical hospitality and extravagant generosity in a situation which, God willing, comes only once in a lifetime. We are truly blessed to be called to this time and place to witness to Jesus Christ and to serve our neighbors in Christ's name.

The words of the Apostle Paul encourage us this day, "Now to [God] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

God bless you.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Houston's Healthy Attitude

Hurricane Katrina is putting us all to the test. Some are up to the test, others aren't. From what I read, the people of Houston are doing exceptionally well. Consider this:

Officials postponed today's scheduled Labor Day Classic at Reliant Stadium between football rivals Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M. And they canceled Fiestas Patrias, a Mexican independence day celebration that had been expected to draw up to 50,000 to Reliant Center on Sunday.

Mayor Bill White said the situation was so dire in Louisiana and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast that the Houston area needs to do what is necessary to aid that region's homeless.

"We're going to kick people out who were planning to do things. This is an emergency," he said. "If it entails somebody suing us, then OK."

Pittsburg Cares

I've just set up a separate blog to disseminate information for the Hurricane Katrina outreach ministry here in Pittsburg. We expect 50 evacuees to arrive within 72 hours.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The easiest things to do

Katrina has brought out those who are best at complaining and casting blame. I'm several hundred miles away from the scene, but it seems to me that we don't have the perspective to do much in the way of constructive criticism. (I do realize that the goal isn't constructive criticism for a lot of the people, it's winning the next round of elections.)

From what I see we have too much to do to join the gripe & blame chorus.

News from Biloxi

Here's a note from a pastor in Biloxi. There are alot more people to pray for than just those from New Orleans:
I wanted to ask your prayers for all us folks on the Gulf Coast and throughout Mississippi who have been affected by the storm. I am one of the lucky ones. Just found out that our church First UMC in Biloxi is in relatively good shape. The parsonage miraculously escaped. Both church and parsonage are in the areas that athorities say were 90% destroyed. There will be MANY dealts before this is all over and all the "experts" are saying this will no doubt be the worst castrophy in modern US history. I still don't know about the safety of 98% of my congregation. I do know very few will not have major damage to their homes at the very least. One of the wonderful elderly couples (lay coordinators of our older adult ministry) who lived three houses down from me lost EVERYTHING. I feel like I have my own private tsunami. We are going to be trying to find homes for the next several months for literally hundreds of thousands of people. Please pray and encourage your congregations to respond. We have had so many disasters in recent months but the suffering in the midst of this is unbelievable.

God bless you all.
Gary Thompson
Pastor, First United Methodist Church
What used to be Biloxi, MS

Lakeview Methodist Conference Center - Katrina Response

Here's another part of Texas UMs response to Katrina needs:

Lakeview Conference Center [outside Palestine, TX] will be housing 106 special needs adults starting tomorrow (Saturday). They need twin size sheets and blankets or sleeping bags, towels, all toiletries except toothbrush and toothpaste, Kleenex, and feminine hygiene products. Please bring these items to the district office [at FUMC, Texarkana, TX - 903-794-6231] beginning Tuesday. They also need funding for this project (because FEMA doesn't help outside of major metropolitan areas), so an account has been set up at Region Bank.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Texas Conference responds to Katrina - Pt. 2

Yesterday I posted Bishop Huie's letter about responding to the need after Katrina. Here's today's note from her with more information and specifics about how you can be involved in helping with the refugees in Houston.

Dear Friends

God is good.  Even in a crisis.  God is good.  United Methodists are responding to the relief effort from Hurricane Katrina in an extraordinary way.  We are also beginning to get more organized.  Thanks be to God.

Here is today's update.  Houston officials are now expecting at least 100,000 refugees to arrive in our area.   Approximately 25,000 people are being evacuated to the Astrodome.   For the most part, these people are the poorest of the poor.   They are arriving with nothing except what they are wearing.  Mayor Bill White, a member of St. Luke's United Methodist Church has asked all the faith communities of the Houston region to unite in one effort to feed the people in the Astrodome for the first 30 days.  

Operation Compassion has been born through the combined efforts of all these religious leaders.  Our combined task will be to prepare, serve and clean up 75,000 meals per day.  It will require 240 trained volunteers per meal.  The cost is approximately $1,000,000 per week.   Each faith group is being asked to provide two things:  people and money.

I have committed the United Methodists to underwrite $1,000,000 for Operation Compassion and provide 240 volunteers for each meal for seven days.  Our week is Sept. 14-20, 2005.  We will be joined by the Hindu faith community and African American evangelicals.

Here is our plan for organizing our people.   Each of the five Houston districts will be responsible for one day.  In addition, two churches will pick up a day each.  The schedule looks like this:
Wednesday, September 14   Houston South
Thursday, September 15   Houston East
Friday, September 16   Houston Northwest
Saturday, September 17   St. Luke UMC
Sunday, September 18   Windsor Village
Monday, September 19   Houston Southwest
Tuesday, September 20   Houston North

State law requires that every volunteer must be trained (2hours) in food handling.  Training dates are as follows:
Saturday September 3  9am
Sunday September 4  2pm
Monday, September 5  1pm
These training events are all at Second Baptist Church (6400 Woodway).   Other training dates may be scheduled later.   However, please try to get as many people trained over the Labor Day Weekend as possible.  

We will staff three daily shifts:  4am-10am/ 10am-4pm/4pm-10pm.   There will be six feeding trailers with each trailer having a team of 40 volunteers per shift.  Each of the trailers will be supervised by 5-6 Disaster Relief members.  Each trailer can serve 20,000 meals per day.   We are not responsible for meal planning and food purchase.  Food service in this way can be provided for about $1.75 per meal.

Volunteers from any United Methodist Church in any part of this conference are welcome to be a part of this effort.  Please email the district office or church for the day you want to serve.  If you can't work on "your district's" day, follow the same instructions.

Here is the plan for raising money.  This disaster is beyond the scope of anything we have ever seen.  After Allison, I have been told that Houston and East Texas cared for about 35,000 evacuees for a few days.  With Katrina, we are talking about 100,000 people for months.  At this point we have been told by the Federal Office of Emergency Management that there is no federal money for people arriving in Houston.  Since we do not know if there will be any reconsideration of that decision, it is our responsibility to care for these people who are truly the "least, last and lost."  People need to give as generously as they can.  

They should make their check out to their local church marked "Katrina."  Treasurers and pastors need to send in Sunday's offering as quickly as possible.  Their check should be made out to the Texas Annual Conference marked "Katrina."   Our $1,000,000 for Operation Compassion needs to be available by September 13, 2005 when we start serving food.

Finally, all the faith communities are being asked to prepare personal hygiene kits.  A total of 25,000 will be needed.  They should be half-gallon size bags and include the following:  
Toothbrush and regular sized toothpaste
Wet wipes/ Travel pack size
We are asking each congregation to drop off their kits at Second Baptist Church (6400 Woodway) on Tuesday September 6 from 9am until 1pm.  I know this is short notice, but they will be needed in the Astrodome as soon as possible.

Let me say that there is already tremendous United Methodist response to this effort.  Local churches are providing food, clothing and shelter for hundred of people as I write this letter.  Everyone of our institutions are engaged in this effort.  I'll say more about some of those responses later.

I have never been more proud to be United Methodist than I have been today.  Compassion and mercy is a part of who we are.  God bless you for what you have done and will do.

Grace and peace,

Janice Riggle Huie