By Bishop Peggy Johnson
“On August 25, 1619, the White Lion (pirate and slave ship) entered from the Chesapeake Bay and arrived at Point Comfort, an English settlement…at the mouth of the harbor, 20 nautical miles downstream from Jamestown (Va.).” (www.Project1619.org) Thus began the scourge of slavery in this country that has continued on for 400 years.
According to an article in the Sunday Tribune by Michael Coard, 12.5 million stolen Africans were brought to this country. By the time of the Civil War there were 4 million enslaved people and 1.32 million of them were children.
They were sold on slave blocks, treated inhumanely, and whole families were separated: “…mother from daughter, father from son, brother from sister, husband from wife. Following these forced separations, they were scattered across the country. And they would never touch or even see one another again.” (Sunday Tribune, July 28, 2019, p 2-A)
It can well be said that the wealth and success of this country came on the backs of enslaved people. Again citing Coard’s research: Of the 56 signers of the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence, 41 had slaves. Of the 55 signers of the U.S. Constitution, 25 owned slaves. One in six households had slaves in Philadelphia in the 1760’s, and even William Penn himself had three. George Washington had 316 slaves.
The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did little to improve the lot of enslaved people. And through the years the scourge of slavery has continued to wound and scar us through Jim Crow laws, stubborn racism and racial inequities, white privilege, white Nationalism and mass incarceration.
August 25 is a date to acknowledge the grievous sins of this nation against not only slaves but also first-nation peoples. It is a time to also recognize the ongoing attacks on immigrants and migrants in this country.
It is a time to remember and reflect on how the hunger for gain and material wealth has caused people to subjugate and enslave their fellow human beings. It is said well in one of our rarely sung hymns: “O shame to us who rest content while lust and greed for gain in street and shop and tenement wring gold from human pain.” (UM Book of Hymns, No. 726)
It is a time to commit the church—our church—to name racism when we see it, to work harder to achieve equality and shared leadership and wealth for all, to carefully monitor our elected officials and vote for those who have hearts of justice, and to promote laws that encourage reparations, affirmative action and fair voting rights, policies and alignment of districts.
The road is long and the battle lines are deeply entrenched in this country presently. But each of us can do our part and together the Church of Jesus Christ can make a difference. Start by praying this prayer at church on August 25.
Gracious God of all people, we acknowledge and repent of the grievous acts of inhumanity against people of African descent in our long history. We know that much generational wealth in this country has been in the hands of European-American people at the expense of people of color.
Forgive us we pray and on this anniversary of 400 years of American slavery. We commit ourselves anew to work for justice, peace and equity. Give us the strength to step out in faith to do our part. And give us the courage to face the persecution that comes with justice ministry. This we pray in the name of the lover of our souls and of all: Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
Learn more about this poignant anniversary of a momentous event in American history. Read “Slavery anniversary leads to new discussions,” by Jim Patterson of UM News Service (July 8, 2019)
By Bishop Peggy Johnson
Doctors have perfected many kinds of tests that diagnose heart disease. From coronary artery blockages to arrhythmia, to heart valve disease—with modern testing equipment, we can know what is in a person’s physical heart.
However, when our Scriptures speak of the heart, it is far more than a body organ. The “heart” is found 762 times in the KJV Bible, and it tends to mean what it is the central core of a person’s desires, wonderment and passion. It is our true best self. One cannot test this kind of heart with a stethoscope, but it is easily discerned by a person’s words.
Jesus taught his disciples that eating food with unwashed hands does not defile a person: “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?”
He goes on to assert the true test of a person’s heart: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:17-19)
What is in our heart is evidenced by the way we talk. Just listen to what a person says. Listen to yourself talk. No special equipment necessary; just listen with your ears… and your heart.
This is no little thing. The Book of James reminds us, “The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire. And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness… it is a restless evil… full of deadly poison.” (James 2:5-6, 8b)
In our current political climate, we are experiencing countless inflammatory words whose name is legion. Many of them come from a heart of racial bigotry, sexism and classism. Calls for congresswomen to be “sent home” and unkind words about Baltimore being an unlivable “rat and rodent infested mess” are disappointing and hurtful. It stirs up more and more strife between people as the cycle of harsh criticism and insults goes on and on.
However, we are not sitting above it all in holiness and purity. In the life of the church, mean-spirited words are spoken against one another as well. James says, “Every kind of beast and bird or reptile and sea creature can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.” (2:7).
Sadly, it is part of the human condition to speak unkindly. So, do we just take it as a “given” and keep on hurting one another with insults and slander? I think not! We have a God who can understand our weakness and will help us.
Paul teaches, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. And God is faithful; and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13)
May we use God’s preventive medicine for the heart disease of slander and evil words spoken against each another. Indeed, may we use that same medicine to also cure the callous, heinous and even murderous actions that too often are prompted by our words. Should we be surprised that hurtful public policies and personal threats and attacks often seem to follow hateful public discourse?
May we continue to pray and work unceasingly for a world in which everyone is given respect in our thoughts, words and deeds, and where the better angels of our nature lead us to promote inclusion and equality for all. If each of us takes responsibility for what we think, say and do in this world, our church can still become part of the beloved community that God intended.
By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
This season I have been pondering “love.” According to the Apostle Paul, it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthians 13:7).
In a sense, it has been the theme of both of our annual conferences. Eastern PA (June 13-15) emphasized the importance of passing down the generational love of God through evangelism. Peninsula Delaware’s annual conference (May 30-June 1) called us to be out in the world engaging in acts of sacrificial love.
Love knows no bounds, is accessible to all, is contagious and, like blood type O- negative, it is the universal donor. Love continues on and on in an unending stream of goodness and life.
The last week of June I traveled to the Northeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa., where I encountered a bridge adorned with “locks of love.” This phenomena can be found all around the world. Countless people attach padlocks to chain-link fences on bridges as symbols of their love commitment to significant others.
So popular is this kind of padlocking that from time to time municipal officials have to remove locks because the sheer weight of them can compromise the integrity of popular bridges. The locks symbolize permanence and faithfulness to a promise, another characteristic of love. The sheer weight of love can conquer anything, even the structure of a mammoth bridge.
Last week I flew to Kansas City for Youth 2019, the denomination’s quadrennial gathering to celebrate and enhance youth ministry. The theme was “Love-Well.”
There I encountered the faces of over 3,000 young people seeking to be the loving presence of Christ in this world. They were concerned about immigration, the environment, the place of LGBTQIA+ members in our church, and the hard, hard task of loving enemies.
I taught a class there along with a few other leaders from the UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities. We taught about accessibility for youth who have physical and emotional challenges.
The theme of love appeared again and again in our conversations, including: how to be in ministry with those on the margins; how to create spaces and accessibility for equality of participation; and how to explore the giftedness of the disability community.
At the end of the day, it is all about love. It is that simple, it is that hard. It means waking up every morning and praying that one can be an agent of love in the world. It means doing the challenging work of getting yourself out of the way and putting Christ and others first.
The Holy Club of Oxford University that John and Charles Wesley led in 1729 required its members to undergo a rigorous self-examination each day with 22 questions. Each one boils down to holiness of life and focus so that love can shine through.
This Holy Club changed the world. Most of the 25 members of this club eventually became legendary leaders of the Great Awakening, a widespread religious revival of that era that changed the world forever with love.
This still works today, especially during these polarizing times. As we make love our focus, all the other things of life fall into place. As Paul reminds us love never fails (I Corinthians 13:8).
Message by Samuel Longmire
“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.”
A couple years ago when I was a sophomore at Lancaster Bible College, I was eating lunch in the dining commons each day, and I began to notice something: I noticed that—besides just students coming to eat lunch and hang out with friends, there was also always a handful of older folks spread out along the perimeter of the commons in the booths having lunch with students, usually with just one or two at a time—talking, listening, praying with them. And I began to wonder, “Who are these people?”, because I didn’t recognize any of them as professors. Well, it turns out that the school had done something very wise: They had allowed a group of local retired ministry leaders to form who wanted—not to be adjunct professors, not to be on staff, not even to be paid—but who simply wanted to show up at the college and personally invest in the lives of students in whatever ways they could, day in and day out.
eventually I ended up meeting one of them—a man named Jim—and Jim went out of
his way to talk with me and hear my story, and
we started meeting together over lunch on a regular basis. And the relationship
that formed between me and Jim— because of his deep love for God and contagious
passion for the gospel—ended up being one of the most impactful, encouraging,
and motivating experiences for me throughout my college years. Jim was the one
who I began to trust and become vulnerable with about sin in my life. He was
also the one who demonstrated to me what it
really means to live by faith, persuading me and other students to get off
campus and go with him into the city to talk with people about Jesus and pray
for them, and even build relationships with families from other cultures who
had never heard the gospel— things we never would have done had it not been for
Jim’s intentional involvement in our lives. But more than anything else, Jim
was the one who motivated me to seek and walk with God—not because of some
specific thing he said that stuck with me, but because of the overall testimony
of his life: a testimony that pointed straight to God—to God’s works, God’s majesty, God’s goodness, God’s
righteousness—all the things that are written right here in Psalm 145: they
overflowed out of Jim and onto me—simply because he went out of his way to form
a relationship. Otherwise none of those things would have happened.
And that’s what I want to make clear: that Jim’s effect on me—which beautifully fulfilled this intergenerational ministry that we see in Psalm 145—did not happen from a distance—from the stage or the front of the classroom; but it happened from closeness: from across the table at lunch. It didn’t happen through a structured program, but through simple relationship building; not because of impressiveness or flashiness, but because of authenticity; not because Jim was trendy and knew how to use his phone like a millennial so he could connect with us, but simply because he cared. It was that intentional, personal, caring ministry of Jim that made all the difference in my life.
And my experience of that—combined with the similar testimonies of others—has led me to this basic conclusion: that intergenerational ministry is most effective within intentional, personal relationships.
Intergenerational ministry is most effective—most powerful—most fruitful— within intentional, personal relationships.
Our Scripture assumes this, right? By saying in verse 4, “One generational shall commend Your works to another”, it implies that those two generations are in relationship together. They have to be! Because the older generation can’t be passing on the reality of God’s glory—and the younger generation can’t be receiving that— unless there is overlapping, shared life among them. If they’re at a distance from each other, it just won’t work! There have to be substantial, genuine relationships between generations. Now, by God’s design that’s naturally built in to families. But we know that God doesn’t exclusively work through parent-child relationships, and many parents may not be following Jesus. So our focus here today is on the broader church community, and how it functions.
So let’s think
about that: In our churches, for young people and older people to have
substantial relationships with each other—is that dynamic normal; is it
occasional; or is it nonexistent? And regardless of where our individual church
cultures fall right now on that spectrum, I think we can all agree that it’d be
ideal if that was normal! That would be awesome!
However, there are a couple cultural challenges that can easily keep us from taking full ownership of this intergenerational ministry that we’ve been called to. I’m going to list just two of them, and then share some possible solutions. But first, the challenges:
One challenge is that it’s easy for us today to rely on our programs to accomplish all the work of ministry. Now, having a young adult program is great! Young adults absolutely need to have friendships with each other that are built on the faith, that can go deep, and that can last long. But, do you see that only getting a group of young adults together—maybe with one or two other people to run it—isn’t quite the fulfillment of intergenerational ministry, because that group is mostly (if not exclusively, depending on who the leader is) comprised of only one generation: the young adults. So that’s great for certain purposes…but it’s not quite Psalm 145.
Another challenge is that it’s easy for the different age groups within our churches to relate almost exclusively with themselves, so that everyone just kind of coasts in their own separate worlds. So, the seniors have their senior Bible study, the empty nesters have their small group, the young adults have their get-togethers, and the main extent of overlap between generations is handshakes and greetings for a couple minutes on Sunday mornings. Well, all those things are great too for their own purposes, but they’re still not Psalm 145.
So what does Psalm 145’s intergenerational ministry require? What I believe is needed is for substantial relationships between the 1) young and 2) the middle-aged and older to become more normal in our churches, and less the occasional phenomenon.
Because if we can
do that—provided that there are middle-aged and older adults in our churches who 1) deeply love the Lord
and 2) genuinely want to extend and share God’s greatness and goodness with
others—provided that we have such people, then by bringing them closer to young
adults, I believe that the Holy Spirit will in so many ways work to take care
of the rest! Because such people—in intentionally closer proximity with young
adults—will inevitably end up sharing more of who God is with them—by the
testimony of their lives, and by naturally bringing up the ways that they have
seen God work. That can become more normal; there just needs to be
intentionality—on our part as church leaders, and on the part of both the young
and the middle-aged and older members
in our churches who come to realize that they have that opportunity.
So the biggest question that remains is, “What specific things can we do to help bridge this relational gap between generations?”. And I won’t pretend to have all the answers to that question; I do not! But there are some ideas that have been floating in my mind, a couple of which I’ve seen work in other churches. And so I’m just going to briefly share them with you to help jump-start our collective brainstorming.
One of them is marriage mentoring. For young people in our churches who are getting married and hopefully going through some kind of premarital counseling, why not make part of that process be that after their wedding, they are paired with an older, godly couple in the church who is available for them and who regularly meets with them throughout their first year of marriage to see how things are going, and to help them navigate any surprises or challenges that they run into along the way. That’s an amazing opportunity for the older couple to share how God worked in their marriage and to pass that along.
Another possibility might be to make church small groups be the place where intergenerational discipleship naturally happens. If you already have small groups meeting in people’s homes for fellowship and Bible study, but they’re separated by age groups or don’t include young adults, maybe it’s be worth pursuing that—to have intentionally mixed ages so that testimonies of God can easily move from generation to generation. And if you don’t have small groups at all, maybe they’re worth considering.
And of course, discipleship without official structure is always on the table! You may be able to think right now of some individuals in your church who, just by nature of their character and life story, have great potential for influencing younger lives; that just might not be on their radar. They might be busy with other things and haven’t even stopped to consider it. So what would it look like to get those individuals together and cast some vision to them—not to be young adult directors, not to create a program, but to simply be intentional about each pursuing one or two young adults in your church (or even outside your church in their workplaces or neighborhoods), initiating longer conversations with them, inviting them over for dinner, and seeing where it goes?
Because it could go unexpectedly far. Jim did that very thing for me, and a relationship formed that changed me; now for the rest of my life he’ll be one of my main role models to help me follow Jesus. It’s so simple, but so powerful!
And in all of this there is always the risk of trying and not having things work out. There is always the chance of putting yourself out there and being rejected. But we must intentionally pursue these relationships nonetheless. Because God in Christ has done the very same thing for us.
Good Morning, everyone.
I’d like to start by reading a few verses related to this year’s Annual Conference theme—Tell the Coming Generations. The book of Psalms, Chapter 78. Starting at verse 2. It reads this:
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter insightful sayings of old, which we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children but will tell the coming generation the praises of the LORD, and His strength, and the wonderful works that He has done.
Ok. Let’s pray![Prayer]
Now, let’s get started!
I am so happy to be here with you all in this season. Just a few days ago—on Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost. The church’s birthday! It is the day when God poured out His Spirit on the disciples, His people. In this season, we remember our baptism when we became drenched with the good news, and forgiveness, and a new life that came to us in Jesus Christ. We also celebrate the permanent presence of the powerful spirit of God. Jesus has gifted within us an indwelling of the Holy Spirit and has promised it to our children and to our children’s children. What is known as ‘that loud and sudden moment during Pentecost’ continues to impact generations!
It’s so exciting to think about what all ‘that moment’ during Pentecost has allowed us to do as a church. During Jesus’ time on earth, it was promised that as his followers we would do greater works than he did. And Almost immediately after the spirit of God came from heaven and fell onto the disciples, Peter then preached to a crowd, telling them, ‘you have rejected the Messiah; you handed him over to be killed’. In return, three thousand converted— one sermon saved thousands. That same fire of tongues—that same way with words and talking to people that rested on the disciples—never dwindled. As promised, it tricked down through the church from generation to generation. The church, today, still has that kind of power. And it makes me want to shout! It should make you want to dance! With worship this week, we should turn this place out with praise because Pentecost is the commemoration of who we are and our coming together into the fullness of whom God called us to be.
You know what? If this past Sunday was the church’s Birthday Party, that would make Annual Conference the After Party. Thank you, Mr. David Koch, our Conference Lay Leader, for allowing me to be your party host. I’d like to spend my time with you talking about ‘After the Party’. What are we to do now that the liturgical celebrations have ended? What happens now that we have been reminded of who we are? Five days have passed, and we are still God’s church. We still have a great commission to fulfill. And it is still the standard and the expectation that we tell the coming generations of God’s great deeds and mercy.
But if you ask a millennial like me or someone from one of the generations trailblazing behind us about what it is that the church is doing, one might respond, ‘The church is hating us!’ The church hates us! Why does it hate us?
I have stopped counting the meetings attended where young people are trampled for not being present and not being pleasant. It’s Kids this, its kids that, its kids these days. That clanging chorus of complaints is the sound of a church that is running and hiding from its responsibility to tell, teach or show the coming generation anything.
And it is to our detriment! The next generation is supposed to bring regeneration. Yet, after the party, the church is still dying. We have become our own silent killer. I am calling us out because silent killers aren’t that silent. They can’t even hide in plain sight. We all know what the problem is— the church has been running and hiding from its responsibility. It’s time we address it. How many of us are ready to face these tough questions—What did we do to lose the younger generations? What is it about us that keeps the coming generation from coming into fellowship with the United Methodist Church?
The church is not holding people accountable for their actions and it has failed to practice Christian correction. When I think of what causes silent killers like drug addiction, HIV, and human trafficking to run rampant in our communities, it is because people choose to be hush hush, when they could be helping and holding people accountable to their available resources, rights, and responsibilities. We can’t run and hide from the truth. Psalm 78:4, the Word of God, tells us that we are to be helping and holding our young people accountable through discipleship.
Despite the descent of the Holy Spirit and its divine power that fell upon us, it seems the church has backed away from accountability.
Proverbs 13:24 tells us that if you don’t discipline your child, you hate your child. After the Party, the church needs to assert its Biblical authority and accountability. Let’s look at our theme verse again. Psalm 78:4 reads: We will not hide things from our descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. Because this appears in the Word of God, it means that it was important to God that His great mercy was made known to the coming generations. In context, the 78th chapter admits that their forefathers were knuckleheads—unfaithful and unruly. But God had a bigger vision for the coming generation. They needed instruction; they needed reproof, correction, and training so that they didn’t repeat the same mistakes. The forefathers were not supposed to stand by silent and hide the truth. It’s a scriptural expectation that older generations love the coming generation enough to discipline them, to disciple them, and to speak the gospel truth to them with compassion and grace.
Telling, teaching and showing the coming generation calls for a church to love its young people enough to speak to their unruliness and unfaithful hearts. It is the church’s job to build the coming generation up in the Christian faith. It is the church’s job to correct them. The coming generation wants to be in a church that will provide them with community and acceptance, that will love them for who they are, and that will give them opportunities to serve and to change the world. But they, also, need a church that will challenge them to be more than what they are; a church that will encourage them to grow into the people the Lord wants them to be. Telling, teaching and showing the coming generation requires an intentional combination of true love and tough love. We can’t run and hide from this truth.
Our children are God’s Workmanship. He has a big vision for them. This grants big responsibilities and great opportunities for the church. God has entrusted us with giving the coming generation the gospel because apart from Christ, it will be impossible for them to please Him with their lives. God intends for his church to be a fellowship of bold spirit-filled believers that understand His great mercies, especially the redeeming mercy which justified us through Christ’s cross.
Our assignment is a big one. So big— because have you tried talking to a teenager lately? Whenever you tell them something, their responses are usually, ‘huh?’ They send calls straight to voicemail. Because the modern world of communication is all about messaging. The universal language of the coming generation is a compilation of textable and tweetable accents and images known as emojis, memes, snaps, and gifs. Our young people can go an entire day communicating without ever using anything we, as an older generation, would recognize to be a real word.
So, how can we ‘tell and teach the coming generations’ anything if they don’t even speak English? Emoji-icon dialects are not languages recognized by the institutional church. However, I believe that this famous quote can level communication barriers: Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words. Foremost, we should be proclaiming the gospel with our lives, living faithfully and in ways that point to the cross. Then, we are to invite others into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is when it becomes necessary for us to use real words. We should not be the only Bible people are seeing and reading. Articulating the gospel requires the use of the true, absolute, and relevant Words of God.
We need God’s law to show the coming generation its sin, we need the law to call them into repentance and faith. We need the law to show them the love of God and to witness to Jesus’ atoning death and his victorious resurrection. Each of us has been given God’s spirit, which means we are all ordained to enliven young people with the Word of God and Biblical truths about who they are in Christ. I want to remind you to fan into flame the gift of tongues God granted all of us when His spirit rested upon His people during Pentecost.
The gift of getting through to young people is in you because that sudden moment during Pentecost that enabled the disciples to speak in tongues binded-up miscommunication; it gave the church a way with words and the courage to engage in spirit-filled ministry with young people. So, if the church speaks truths over the lives of its youth, the church will raise up a generation that has the confidence and obedience to complete the good works God created for them to do. And when the church uses the word of God to make and shape disciples of its youth, it will release into the world a generation of confident young adults that are capable and willing to fulfill God’s big vision for their lives.
The coming generation is between the ages of 6 and 23 years old. They are in the process of discovering and claiming who God has called them to be. It is, also, a life season of correction and occasional reproof. They may not like hearing that certain actions are a rejection of the Bible and the Messiah—but it’s to their benefit. And it’s because we are practicing our love toward them. I believe the coming generation will do greater works than we; greater things for the kingdom that is beyond what we could ever think or imagine.
If the Church agrees, if we believe that God has a big vision for the coming generation, then we need to commit to practicing accountability and Christian correction, providing loving and intentional instruction, as well as extending exciting invitations to discipleship and to the beautiful way of life God has prepared in advance for them.
My hope for the church is that it will know what to say and have the courage to say it. May this charge to tell and teach the coming generation compel you to intentionally and purposefully create safe spaces for young people to spiritually grow and wholeheartedly surrender to the sacrificial love of Christ. Because the world needs them— and we need them to join us in God’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.