faithful mentors

I’m writing this post today in response to a DAY OF BLOGGING for Exploration 2013, a United Methodist Event for people discerning a call to ordained ministry. They asked us to respond to the question: “Who influenced you in discerning your Call to Ministry?” So here it is:

For many in ministry or clergy roles we simply “walk alongside” and  “live life” with the people whom we guide and work with in ministry. This is what the many faithful mentors in my journey have done with/for me–they’ve simply been there as I have experienced (thus far) the full stretch of human life–good times and bad.

auburn samford hallMy specific call to ministry and working with college students came during my freshman year at Auburn University when I went on a Weekend Mission Trip with Auburn Wesley Foundation and Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) to Mobile, Alabama to work at St. Francis Street Mission. The trip was led by Lisa Pierce, the founder and director of ARM

On the trip we worked with a man named “Mr. Johnny” where we fixed his roof and shared some good times and even a few jokes about coffee, roofing, and life. On Sunday morning instead of GOING to Church we went and DID Church: we worked in the soup kitchen and sang songs with the men, women, and children, the poor and homeless, who were in the mission that day. It was an eye opening experience to DO Church instead of just attending church/worship on Sunday morning.Emory Wesley students at ARM on Spring Break 2013 I came back from that trip feeling called and knowing that I wanted to do those kinds of things, and help others to do those things as my vocation. Lisa’s facilitating that trip and encouraging me to go has helped shape the direction of my life for the better. We still stay in contact and it is a great joy to bring Emory Wesley college students on trips to do work with Lisa and ARM.

Over the course of my time at Auburn the Auburn Wesley Director, Rev. David Goolsby, guided and mentored me in ministry and helped shape me into a leader in the Auburn community. I had the opportunity to help lead music and liturgy in worship, experiment with different styles and types of worship, lead small groups, reflect theologically and dream about church models, plan and lead mission trips, and many more opportunities for transformation and service. David is still a mentor of mine, officiated our wedding, and is a thoughtful guide and ‘guru’ of campus ministry for many.

I am thankful and grateful to God for mentors like Lisa and David who helped me to hear God’s call in my life. I’ll end with a word from David in my own paraphrased Goolsby-ism: “May we seek to be faithful to God as God is faithful to us.” Amen.

For more info about Exploration 2013 click here: ExploreCalling.org!

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A Day of Prayer for Exploration 2011

Today is a day of prayer for Exploration 2011. Exploration is a gathering of people ages 18-26 who are discerning, wrestling, or just trying to figure out their call into ministry. It is a weekend of people gathering from all over the church to pray, worship, teach, learn, listen, and hang out with other people who are asking some of the same questions about ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. Exploration 2011 will be held in St. Louis, MO at the Millenium Hotel  November 11-13. Registration is online and TODAY is the last day of earlybird registration!

And now, a prayer for exploration 2011:

God,
you know all people and you have made all people in your image,

 you love us and know us and we thank you for your love and call upon all of our lives:
for all of us: a call to work, live, and love people.

And today we especially pray for those who are discerning your call on their lives
to Ordained Ministry as Elders and Deacons in the United Methodist Church.
We pray that you would guide, equip, lead, and develop them into servants of the whole church and the whole world.

We pray for exploration 2011–that your Spirit will be obvious and apparent to all who gather.

In the name of Jesus the Christ, Amen.

Doxology: Reclaiming a post-offering hymn

This is my arrangement of the classic “doxology” or as it is better known: “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” or “Old 100th”…or ‘the song they play after they take up the offering.’

It is number 95 in the United Methodist Hymnal (& public domain), but the “Old 100th” came from when the ‘hymnal’ used to only be filled with psalms set to music and this tune was from that 1551 arrangement attributed to Louis Bourgeois. The words for this text came from Thomas Ken (father of english hymn writing) and was written by him with the simple title (or instructions) “morning and evening hymn.”

This may sound strange, but I prefer to play it a safe distance away from the offering. When we do use it in worship (hardly ever near the offering, those in worship seem to grasp a different meaning of the tune and lyrics. The meaning of ‘Doxology‘ is actually from New Testament Greek for praise, honor, or glorify. We’ve settled with it being played at the time of the return of the offering to God (ushers bringing the plates back up to the front of the church altar/table) is because it has a good theological reason: we should give praise, honor, and glory to God in returning a portion of all that God has given us back to God’s kingdom and the work of the Lord. However, the a common result when we hear this song now is that we get an ever-so-strong sense that we should be standing, singing, and giving money.

All joking aside, this is a real example of tradition that needs to be RE-taught and RE-contextualized. I think that many people really do like this song (great history and excellent words and even theology) but it gets used in the church context only as ‘the song we sing after the offering.’ This is a short shrift for such a beautiful, powerful, and diverse song–it can be sung quietly as a prayerful evening hymn or loudly as an anthem at the 11 o’clock service.

This version uses a cut capo (simulates DADGAD by holding the strings in an Esus, which allows the guitar player to play ‘rhythm’ and ‘lead/melody’ at the same time) and is styled/arranged after a Passion/David Crowder version of the song.

Note the use of ‘God’ in lieu of ‘Him’ for greater inclusivity while retaining the Trinitarian and doctrinally important (Baptism/Eucharist rites & inter-denominational covenants/agreements) language of Father, Son, & Holy Ghost.

lyrics/chords:
E                                              A2  Bsus  E
Praise God From whom all Blessings Flow
E                                         A        B
Praise God all creatures here below
E             A      B       E
Praise God above ye heavenly host
E                       A             B           E
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
(Cre-a-tor)

A      E  A     E    A     E    A     B   (E)
Amen   Amen   Amen   Amen

(in G: G C D)

God of this City–by Bluetree

This is another example of a modern song that is born out of the difference between the classic “now and not yet”–the idea that things of the world now are not as they should be.

This song is written by Aaron Boyd of the band Bluetree from Belfast, Ireland. It has been made popular by Chris Tomlin and other worship leaders, but knowing the song’s context for me gives more meaning (see below for link). I prefer the stripped down, simpler version of this song for worship settings. (My general preference is for simple, congregationally driven worship songs/hymns.)

For me, the “city” in this song is more than just a single city, locality, or nation–it is the City of God that St. Augustine wrote about in the 5th century–it is a city of God’s people doing God’s will. That is what the kingdom of God looks like and that is what Jesus’ ministry began: the coming of God’s Kingdom. As Christians, we work together with all of God’s people to bring about the Kingdom of God– a place where broken people are made whole, hope is given to the hopeless, and God’s grace abounds.

This song reminds us that there is much to be done and greater things have yet to come. Jesus said this in John 1 to his disciples and we believe it still today: Greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done to reconcile us to ourselves, us to each other, us to the created order, and us to God.

The story (& a much better recording) of the song is here.

New Orleans, college campuses, and the Church

This week we’re on vacation…jackson park fencewell my wife is at a conference and I’m walking around the city of New Orleans taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the food of course. In my walkings around the French Quarter, City Park, and the Warehouse district I’ve noticed how many tourists I see with very nice digital cameras taking lots and lots of photos. I guess New Orleans is a very photogenic city. Its historic nature and subsequent variety of people and architecture make it a great place to “people watch” and take pictures…although hopefully you’re taking pictures of the scenery and not the pedestrians.

There is always something going on here in New Orleans–a prime example: after I searched for 15 mins to park ourbrass band 2 car to check into the hotel I found a spot on a side street in the French Quarter. As I was getting our luggage out of the car and BAM!–right in front of me emerged a brass band and following parade moving down the street. It was out of no where and I’m not even sure why it was going on, but it was and it was awesome. Every time we come here to visit friends, there is always something going on–if it’s not Mardi Gras, it’s a Jazz festival, crawfish boil, or something else. It seems to me that the people  in New Orleans like to do things–not just talk about them.

I feel like that is what a college campus is like or supposed to be like. sandwich makingCollege is about learning–but (hopefully) not just about the theoretical part of things. Sadly many classes are about theory and the proper procedure, but are generally lacking the practice or application section. However, all the students at Emory are encouraged to take part in extra-curricular activities and service projects. Many of the students in the Emory Wesley Fellowship are very involved in campus activities–everything from being resident advisors (RA’s), being involved in student government as class representatives, and leading service trips for Volunteer Emory and even making sandwiches to help support people struggling with homelessness in Atlanta. Outside of service opportunities, there are many other interests and activities vying for attention from the student population.

Basically, there is always something going on at a college campus too. Whether for good or ill, I think that college students are about doing things. They’re interested in talking about things, but they also couple that talking with action and living out what they learn and what they believe.

This brings us to the Church. I won’t take this space to be too critical of the actions of the Church, that is the body of Cathedralpeople claiming Christianity as their faith tradition. I’ll leave that discussion for a later, more interpersonal time. However, the Church, when it is truly being the Church–the ekklesia, the gathered people–the Church is about action and about transformation. The life and teachings of Jesus motivate us to join in the movement of God towards the reconciliation, healing, and transformation of and for the world.

Now, the nexus of these topics is found in Campus ministry: young adults and college people who are about living out the good news and love of God through action to and with thier neghbors in the world. That is what campus ministry is about.

If you’re heading off to college, Emory or otherwise, and you’d like to get involved in a living, breathing, action inducing faith tradition, then check out a campus ministry like the Emory Wesley Fellowship.

As always, email with comments or questions. –Joseph   jmcbray@emory.edu

Approved!!

So, last week 50+ people desiring to be United Methodist elders and deacons went before the Board of Ordained Ministry of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church to be essentially “interviewed” to be approved or not to be placed in ministry in the UMC. UMC logo

In short, I “passed,” although the official words are that I am “deferred pending appointment.” Many did not make it through, but must repeat some parts of the paperwork and interview sessions. This is a difficult verdict to hear because in preparation for the Board, every candidate has to go through a lengthy candidacy process (it takes at least 3 years) which includes Masters in Divinity, a 3 year graduate theological education basically, on top of your undergraduate degree and ministry experience. My paperwork wound up being close to 80 pages double-spaced as they ask a difficult set of questions ranging from “How do you see the Holy Spirit working in the World?” to “What does it mean to say that Jesus Christ is Lord?” to “What is the nature and mission of the Church?” Basically, the Board wants to see if you can articulate theology–that you can write and speak coherently about God, humanity, and their interaction.

My experience with the Board, although challenging, was a positive one that left me feeling both encouraged and hopeful. Encouraged–that more experienced ministers and pastors on the Board were willing to listen and appreciate the passion and call of a young person who is hoping to enter the ministry. Hopeful–that things are changing in the Church and that the Church has a future with young people in the world and in ministry.

road to somewhereNow what?! We wait for a little longer to see if there is a place where my gifts and talents match the needs of a church or ministry. This is how the Methodist itineracy system works. So, join me in praying for all who met with the Board: that we may find ministries to which we are well suited and that will enable us to fulfill our calling to serve God and neighbor. But, for the next two weeks my wife and I are simply going to celebrate that I was affirmed by the Board of Ordained Ministry–for each day has enough worry of its own.

Emory Wesley Fellowship

In case anyone who might read this is interested, I work with the students at the Emory Wesley Fellowship, the United Methodist Campus Minstry at Emory University. We’ve created an Emory Wesley Fellowship Facebook Group for the students to communicate what we do not do on LearnLink, Emory’s webmail and student connectvity client. LearnLink is somewhat dated–even after a recent upgrade–being mostly bland text and characters, but the students use it and it has a desktop client (from FirstClass, a company which designs and manages these sorts of things). One of our questions is how we can be better at communications as a group–not just a facebook group, but as a campus ministry. How can we be better at letting the students know about the good things that God is doing with us and through us at the Emory Wesley Fellowship?