Unwrap the True Meaning of Christmas

We invite you to Smyrna/Wingate UMC as we unwrap the true meaning of Christmas and the homecoming of Christ to redeem and renew us, this earth and all creation!

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Sexual Harrssment

October 20, 2017

To: Western North Carolina Conference Clergy of The United Methodist Church

From:  Bishop Paul L. Leeland

The increasing number of accusations related to the alleged sexual harassment and abuse by Harvey Weinstein has invited a growing number of women to acknowledge sexual harassment, including women clergy within our own conference.  Initially, I thought I might send a letter to our women clergy, and then decided it was more important for all clergy to be unified in acknowledging that this issue is more widespread than many of our congregations realize.

Emerging out of the Wesleyan emphasis of personal and social holiness, the Social Principles serve as an important reminder that our denomination has consistently spoken to the importance of living our lives in such a way that reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ and our awareness of the power of sin to destroy many God given gifts intended to enable us to live lives of wholeness, goodness, and grace.

Our Social Principles specifically address sexual harassment, and I simply point to this paragraph as an additional reference that may be used when addressing this issue within your local church:

¶161.J: Sexual Harassment – We believe human sexuality is God’s good gift. One abuse of this good gift is sexual harassment. We define sexual harassment as any unwanted sexual comment, advance, or demand, either verbal or physical, that is reasonably perceived by the recipient as demeaning, intimidating, or coercive. Sexual harassment must be understood as an exploitation of a power relationship rather than as an exclusively sexual issue. Sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to, the creation of a hostile or abusive working environment resulting from discrimination on the basis of gender. Contrary to the nurturing community, sexual harassment creates improper, coercive, and abusive conditions wherever it occurs in society. Sexual harassment undermines the social goal of equal opportunity and the climate of mutual respect between men and women. Unwanted sexual attention is wrong and discriminatory. Sexual harassment interferes with the moral mission of the Church. (The Book of Discipline, 2016).

It is this last sentence which is so important. “Sexual harassment interferes with the moral mission of the Church.”  As spiritual leaders, we invite all disciples to join us in the journey to embrace “the social goal of equal opportunity and the climate of mutual respect between men and women.”

First, I want our sisters in ministry to know that I am aware of this issue and that I affirm their ministry. “Unwanted sexual attention is wrong and discriminatory.”  Second, I call on our male clergy join me in pledging to acknowledge and speak to this issue when we see it, as a means of encouraging each of us to remain faithful to the moral mission of the Church.

This is an opportune time to be engaged in small discussion groups and to use materials prepared by the Church to initiate conversations, raise awareness, and identify healthy responses to this issue when it affects our work.  As the nation enters into this conversation related to these recent revelations, let us as clergy use our influence and voices to offer hope and encouragement to those who are too often impacted by incidents of harassment.

Halloween: Celebrate or Condemn?

Every year someone asks me whether it is appropriate for Christians to participate in what appears to be a satanic celebration of evil, Halloween. And my response when hearing this concern is the same each time: “You know, the origin of Halloween somehow involves the participation of the Christian church…I just can’t remember the details.”

Well, I researched the subject and now I can remember the details. I want to share with you what I have relearned because it is critical to rehearse again and again the reasons why it is mightily important for all who are Christian to participate in Halloween.

The word “hallow” means “holy” and of course the word “een” means “eve” or “evening.” “Halloween” or “All Hallow’s Eve” or “Holy Evening” signifies the evening before All Saint’s Day when we who are Christians remember the faithful who lived bold and righteous lives, no matter how difficult it was to do so.

Rev. Mary Nelson Keithahn, a pastor in the United Church of Christ, has written an article in which she explains the origins of the controversial holiday.

She states that “in the Middle Ages people were keenly aware of their vulnerability in the vast universe and were terrified of demons, especially on October 31st the last day of the year on the pagan calendar. In order to protect themselves and scare off the demons, they lit huge bonfires around the villages and fields, and carried candles in hallowed out turnips, squash or rutabagas. The Celts believing that the dead came back to be with the living on All Hallow’s Eve, offered prayers for them and donned masks and costumes to lead the ghosts in a parade out of town.”

“Christians of that time believed in the resurrection and no longer feared death or any kind of evil. They would don costumes on All Hallow’s Eve, making fun of death and the things that personified it, because they knew God was with them, giving them the power to overcome all evil. Christian children went door to door unafraid, offering prayers for the dead in exchange for “Soul Cakes” (flat oval shortbread cookies). The next day they would all go to Church to celebrate All Saints Day.”

She concludes by stating that, “forbidding Christians to celebrate Halloween denies us a chance to practice our faith that the goodness and power of God’s love will always triumph over evil in the end.”

I tend to agree with Rev. Keithahn and I am painfully aware of the uncomfortable reality that the occasion of Halloween causes us to come face to face with the evil that surrounds us.

It is good news to hear that God’s love will triumph over evil in the end. It is good news to be reminded in Holy Scriptures that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus that nothing can keep God from loving us and taking care of us.

Halloween indeed provides us the opportunity to mock evil and death and to celebrate our confidence in God whose power is greater than any other!

Peace, Tracy

Hurricane Harvey and Irma

As United Methodists, let us stand together in prayer and support of all of those who have been affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The state of North Carolina isn’t in the clear as we anticipate tropical force winds and rains to impact Western North Carolina. Hurricane Jose also looms behind, reminding us that storms are never far away. We are especially aware of Bishop Carter, one of our own, who leads the Florida Conference in the midst of the disaster. We also remember Bishop Lawson Bryan who is working closely with his churches in the South Georgia Conference as they serve evacuees from Florida.

READY YOURSELF

Ensure that you and your congregations prepare for potential natural disasters. Know your evacuation routes, secure necessary documents, and review your congregation’s emergency response plans. Read- Local Church Checklist: Are you ready for a disaster? It is also advisable to designate a church member to remain vigilant on the actions of the Western North Carolina Conference. Please take a moment and visit Ready NC to learn more ways to plan and prepare.

DONATE TODAY &
THROUGH SUNDAY SPECIAL OFFERINGS

Your donations make it possible for Early Response Teams and others aiding in disaster to help survivors immediately. Beyond this, your donation dollars contribute to funding all aspects of disaster response and relief.

• Donations may be made payable to the Western North Carolina Conference, marked “Disaster Response.” PO Box 18005, Charlotte NC 28218

You may also donate online now.

• Please continue to take special offerings this Sunday and next within your regular times of worship.

COLLECT SUPPLIES

As partners with UMCOR, we have been tasked with the collection and shipment of cleaning buckets and hygiene kits. Instructions on flood bucket and hygiene kit assembly, as well as information regarding collection sites throughout our conference, are available on our website: http://missionwncc.org/mission-partnerships/disaster-response/

VOLUNTEER

There are several ways to volunteer in Western North Carolina and areas more significantly impacted. Not all volunteers need training.

• To volunteer, please visit our online form to volunteer. More info here: https://form.jotform.us/72505324945154

• We also offer Early Response Team training that allows groups and individuals to enter disaster zones at the invitation of local emergency management officials. More info here.

DON’T BURDEN THE DISASTER ZONE

Collecting and sending supplies that are not requested burdens impacted communities. The most efficient method of supporting is through donating funds, volunteering, and collecting items that have been specifically requested. Also, please do not arrive on the scene without proper Early Response certification and invitation.

WHEN DISASTER STRIKES

If a disaster impacts your church or surrounding community, please follow the seven steps outlined in this document. These 12×18 posters are available at the Western North Carolina Conference Center and will be available at your district offices after September 15.

Response to Charlotteville

The 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline articulates the perspective United Methodists offer the world — the opposite of those hate groups.  Below, are reproduced parts of paragraphs 162 and 162A as a guide for your prayers and response.

From the Book of Discipline:

“The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons. We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employm­ent, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation. Our respect for the inherent dignity of all persons leads us to call for the recognition, protection, and implementation of the principles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that communities and individuals may claim and enjoy their universal, indivisible, and inalienable rights.”

“Rights of Racial and Ethnic Persons”

“Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system. Racism, manifested as sin, plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself. In many cultures white persons are granted unearned privileges and benefits that are denied to persons of color. We oppose the creation of a racial hierarchy in any culture. Racism breeds racial discrimination. We define racial discrimination as the disparate treatment and lack of full access and equity in resources, opportunities, and participation in the Church and in society based on race or ethnicity.

“Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons. We rejoice in the gifts that particular ethnic histories and cultures bring to our total life. We commit as the Church to move beyond symbolic expressions and representative models that do not challenge unjust systems of power and access.”

Human Isolation and Technology – Views from A Loft

Motor Cross Rider on Muddy Track Clipart

In his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes an increasingly important and frightening element of American life: our tendency to insulate and isolate ourselves from our world. Pirsig describes the element in terms of riding a motorcycle: the central metaphor of his book. He says that Americans are turning ventures into their own world as an extension of television. They take trips and want to make “good time,” with the emphasis on the word “time.” The trip is an annoyance that they want to be over as soon as possible. They take the trips in air-conditioned cars with the windows rolled up on super highways where great effort has been made to iron out as many kinks as possible. Basically, the trips have been reduced to people, sitting on comfortable seats, watching scenery slide by behind glass for hours: exactly what they do when watching television. They are insulated from temperature and weather elements. They are as isolated as they can make themselves from the landscape around them: surrounded by nature but not a part of it. With motorcycles, Pirsig points out, you are always in the scene. Real pavement whizzes by five inches under your foot. If it is hot or cold, so are you. Wind, smells, insects, they are all yours because you are part of it: not isolated or insulated from anything.

Pirsig wrote his book back in the mid-70’s and, I’m sorry to say, no one listened to his warning. The isolation has become even more pronounced since then thanks to new technology. It has been said that air conditioners turned neighborhoods into strangerhoods. I don’t know if I buy into that completely, but I will have to say that I cannot remember the last time I saw a group of neighbors gathered together in someone’s yard on an average summer evening, laughing and talking, while their kids played hide and go seek. That was an every night summer occurrence when I was a boy. A lot has contributed to the demise of that image: computers, television, video games, daylight saving time and such. The result has been that just getting together with your neighbors has become a special event nowadays, rather than a common thing. It’s our loss. Writing letters and talking on telephones used to be unsatisfactory fillers to be used only if you could do nothing else until you got back to talk face to face with the other person. Now, telephones, Facebook, and e-mail have become primary communication methods. And this, remember, is the way we have come to treat our friends and neighbors. The problem is even worse with people from whom we are somewhat isolated by language or location already.

In warfare, one of the first things soldiers do is come up with derogatory and dehumanizing names for their enemies. It is easier to kill a kraut, jap, commie, gook, slope, or raghead than it is to take the life of another human being. For the sake of their own sanity, soldiers try to isolate themselves from the fact that there are men and women in the place where their weapons will take effect. Without intending to do so, we have done something very similar to the people with whom we share this planet. Thanks to our love of movies and television, many people are more familiar with people who never existed and things that never happened than they are with their own history or current events. It makes “alternative facts” and fake news easier to accept. Our computers, those wonderful windows to all sorts of information, remove us from the very reality about which they inform (or misinform) us. It is now possible to work from home via computer and telephone or cable lines and never have to venture out into traffic or the workplace. We can order groceries on line and have them delivered. We can order up sports shows and movies. We can even date on line. In this day of high technology, it is already possible to meet someone, get married, and have children without physically seeing or touching the person with whom you are now sharing your life. Now all of this may be very convenient, but it comes at a cost. We are becoming separated from everything and everybody by a pane of glass.

We are used to ignoring the needs of the little images on the other side of the glass. We know we can be lied to with pictures, so they become less compelling. What are a few dead Iraqi or Afghan civilians when you just saw a whole planet get blown away by the Death Star? Now that was clearly factious, but a study of slasher-type horror films did find that they made people who watched them less concerned about the pain of real victims. Sometimes, we blur the line ourselves. When we become isolated from our fellow human beings; insulated from their needs, their desires and their pain; we have made both them and ourselves a little less than human: a little less than what God made us to be. It’s hard to be the hands and eyes of God when everything is under glass.

The process isn’t complete yet, but you can certainly see the handwriting on the wall. Science fiction writers have been warning us about this for years. I’d love to tell you all about that, but, well, there’s this show I’ve been intending to watch on TV, and the phone is buzzing, and I haven’t checked Facebook this afternoon, and, well, you know how it is……

~ Kurt Hendrix

Weeding for Lent – From Rev. Tracy Schumpert

henbit-weed

The “henbit” weed (source)

Maybe because they know that the Season of Lent is upon us, maybe because it has started warming up, but whatever the reason, I’ve seen lawns taken over by tiny purple flowers. It seems that everywhere I look I am surrounded by tiny purple blossoms. I imagine that not all of these were intentionally planted. In fact, most of the little purple blooms are indeed what many would call “weeds” (specifically, as I have learned, the “henbit” weed).

One person’s blight is another person’s beauty. Such is the case for the purple flowers. Each of the flowers in the various lawns I’ve seen, I imagine, have unique stories of how they grew, how much they are wanted (or despised), and what they symbolize. And, each of them is a symbol of our own lives as well.

As we continue through Lent, especially as we near Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we look deeply at our lives and find plenty of “weeds” – things we’d rather not have in our lives that take away from the beauty of the rest of us. And, truth be told, there are probably some weeds that we’ve kind of grown to love. There are some extra special sins or idols that we don’t want to let go of just yet. We may rationalize them to think they are beautiful, but they are weeds nonetheless. And then there are those places of hope, signs of Easter if you will, that shine forth despite the harshness of our daily lives.

For many of us, the sins in our lives, like the weeds in the lawns, have a tendency to distract us from the hope that is seen around them. When I look at lawns I have a harder time seeing the beautiful flowers for all of the silly henbit that takes away my attention. The same is true for the hope of Easter and the sins which distract us from that hope. After all, that is the story of Easter – it is a move away from the sins and pain that are all too often obstacles to God’s will for our lives and a move toward the light, life, and hope of a new day.

This month I’m going to do a little weeding in my life. And I hope you will too – that the beauty of our lives might shine for all the world to see.

~ Peace, Tracy

Attitudes and Goals – From Rev. Tracy Schumpert

tracys-pictureI visit many in hospitals and see the impact of their illness on their physical and mental state. I see those who are hurt express themselves in ways that hurt others. I hear stories of how people feel forgotten and misunderstood. I listen to those that feel they are being “honest” truly dampen the spirits of another. I believe the way in which we view the events going on around us affects greatly our attitude. Those who see the world in a negative light often spread that pain and hurt to others. Those who see the world in a positive light are often happier and spread love and light to those around them. God gives us the ability to transcend our pain, our loneliness, our hurt, our physical condition, and our circumstances by giving us the ability to change the way we feel about our situation. Our attitude is up to us! I love this quote by an unknown author:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

May God strengthen us to have the most encouraging, positive, optimistic attitude in order to improve ourselves and our church. If we truly believe everything is possible through Christ, then there is no reason not to have an attitude to match!

Thank you to all who participated in the Cottage Gathering! Many good ideas, goals for the future and dreams for church came out of our discussions. I pray that we look to the future through the eyes of faith knowing God will guide us and strengthen us for the work ahead. If we continue to work together with an attitude of gratitude and encouragement, there is nothing we cannot accomplish!

Listed below are the goals for this year and the committees that will be developing a plan for us all to participate in implementing:

*Expand Community (Invite More People, Jerusalem Sunday, Engage Inactive Members, Target Unchurched) – Family Ministries

*New Approach Needed (Utilize Technology, Ask Young People What They Would Like to See, Embrace Change, No Judgement, Welcoming All) – Worship

*Signage (Name Tags for Worship, Usher Tags, Signs for Where to Go in the Church) – Trustees

*Food (Fellowship Surrounded by Food) – Family Ministries

*Spiritual Growth (Learning and Studying about the Community Around Us) – Task Force

~ Peace, Tracy