Racial Diversity

Serving for several years in the former North Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, racially diverse is not a way I would describe our denomination.

This week, I have been pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the racial diversity I have witnessed at this gathering.

Our Indiana delegation consists of 8 African-American and 2 Hispanic members. While that doesn’t sound like much, it seems almost mind-blowing. Our Annual Conference gatherings are so white. Having a racially diverse church leadership pool will help create more racial diversity in our local churches. That would be a welcome change.

Thankfully, the Indiana Conference is not the only delegation with a racially diverse make-up. Our general session gatherings are fairly diverse. We have a decent representation of a wide variety of racial groupings.

I needed to be reminded that the UMC isn’t just white and middle class. This gives me a glimpse of hope for our denomination!

Any Thing You Can Do…

I can do better???

This afternoon, I stood in a prayer circle with 30+ pastors, staff, and laity from the UMC. One can only imagine what happened when we were invited to pray whatever came to our hearts.

The prayer time started with a nice, short word of thanks. Then, the pastors started up. Each new prayer got longer, louder, and used more Christianese theological terms.

It was as if each person praying was using the time of prayer as an opportunity to give a short sermon. It truly felt like a competition.

Now, the truth of the matter is that I am extremely cynical. All of the prayers may have been totally authentic…genuine…from the heart. It’s probably my pour attitude…my pastoral pride and ego that stood in the way of fully engaging in this time of prayer and appreciating what was happening in the moment. Whether it’s my cynicism or not, some of the prayers were received as a show.

It felt like Matthew 6:5, 7, where Jesus instructs us…”When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get…When you pray, don’t babble on an on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.”

I felt led to pray a prayer of repentance…asking God to forgive us for trying to out do one another…to forgive us for attempting to draw attention to ourselves. But, then I realized that this would probably have been more offensive to the people in the circle than the babbling prayers were to me.

However, this does remind me to lead by example with my prayers. We don’t need long, drawn out prayers. We don’t need prayers with fancy words that only people with advanced studies in the theological arena understand (or simply pretend to understand). We need to simply be honest, straightforward, to the point, and speak from the heart.

I’m not saying that, for some, speaking from the heart won’t include long times of prayer of fancy language. What I am saying is that, too often, we church leaders tend to pray in such a manner that others feel intimidated to pray. You hear comments like, “Well, I can’t really pray like the pastor.” Then, you find out that some simply avoid prayer because they’ve never been taught about having a simple, open dialogue with God.

So, I believe we need to model simple prayers. When Jesus taught us to pray, it didn’t take 6 chapters. He didn’t model a 15-minute prayer with unfamiliar language. He broke it down to the bare necessities. Shouldn’t we follow His example?

Weird Worship

So, I just attended a worship service that was…interesting. The music was led by an African-American man on piano and vocals and a Anglo woman on vocals and attempting to play the djembe.

The vocals screamed 1970’s Maranatha or Gaither Music Group. Very cheesey. Very over-the-top.

One of the most interesting moments was as the final speaker was wrapping up his message. The pianist began playing a chord progression with a certain rhythm that sounded oddly familiar. On the second round, I realized that he was playing the Dave Matthews Band “Crash Into Me.”

I thought to myself, “Well, that’s weird.”

Then, he proceeded to invite the crowd to sing “Sanctuary” on top of this chord progression. It worked in parts. But, overall, the chord progression and the melody did not work well together.

I think he was trying to blend some contemporary elements with this older chorus. It was…”creative?”

I have a few minutes before my next workshop and just had to write about this…

I really never thought that I’d hear “Sanctuary” and the Dave Matthews Band at the same time. How bizarre?