In the District
Greetings from the District Superintendent
|Dr. Bob Bushong|
What a strange time we are in the midst of. I was with someone recently who, along with living in the midst of this worldwide pandemic, is also facing a life threatening illness that is not Coronavirus related. This person said to me in a recent conversation, “I feel as if it’s still Good Friday and I haven’t gotten to Easter yet.” That comment got me thinking about our present time and how I might address it in this column. What I felt led to do was to go back and edit the sermon that I preached just a few weeks ago at Tuskawilla UMC on Easter Sunday. We in Eastertide, the liturgical season between Easter and Pentecost, and it seems that a word that reminds us of the resurrection is appropriate in our current context. The scriptural reference is Mark 16:1-8.
On Palm Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem as the grand marshal of an upbeat and festive parade in which his presence and his leadership were celebrated and applauded. The crowds followed him and cheered him. Jesus began the week as a hero. And by Friday: abandoned by his disciples, Jesus undergoes a trial, he is whipped and beaten; he is brutally executed.
I find myself haunted by what surely is among the most powerful sentences uttered in all of scripture, as from the cross Jesus quotes the opening line of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why have you left me alone? Why have you excited yourself from my life? Why have you deserted me, God?
Have you ever been there – so distraught, so emotionally stricken that you feel totally abandoned, even by God?
Friday is a scandalous day when through Jesus, God experiences excruciating physical pain and indescribable emotional emptiness. But that is not the end of the story.
The accounts differ in the various Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – as is expected in separate accounts of any event. For each of them it is the first day of the week. The Sabbath has passed. According to Mark’s account three women have gone to the tomb of Jesus: Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome. They have brought spices with which to anoint the body of Jesus. Two days have passed, and their hearts are still heavy with grief. As they come closer to his tomb they wonder, “Who is going to roll away the stone?”
The stone that sealed the tomb was very large and would not have been easy to move, and to their amazement the stone was already rolled away when they arrived. Entering the tomb, the three women discover a young man dressed all in white, and the text says that they were frightened.
The young man said to them, “Don’t be afraid. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen. He is not here. Go tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee. There shall you see him, as he told you.”
Mark’s announcement of Easter is very understated. The other three Gospels writers tell a fuller, more complete, more dramatic story of the resurrection. Why would Mark present the resurrection in such a brief, understated manner? Could it be that Mark wanted to make the point that the story doesn’t end there in the first century, that Mark’s eight verses are just the beginning of the story of the resurrection?
Maybe, just maybe, the reason that Mark wrote only eight verses was for them to serve as a preface to the Gospel that you and I would write. After all, the real story of the resurrection is still being written wherever and whenever anyone experiences the gift of new life that comes undeserved and unearned and unexplained through God’s gracious love in and through Jesus.
The messenger sitting in the tomb says that the risen Christ "is going ahead of you to Galilee" (v.7). Galilee was the site of the disciples' first witness and mission, and for the disciples, going to Galilee was going home. The risen Lord goes before and ahead of all of his disciples, as we live out the Gospel message away and at home.
We have always had a God who goes out ahead of us:
- When Moses led the people away from Pharaoh and into the wilderness, the Lord went ahead of them as a pillar of fire by night and smoke by day.
- When the Israelites were struggling to establish their foothold in the land of Canaan, the ark of the covenant, God's presence in their midst, would always go ahead of them into battle.
- When the psalmists and poets of Israel described God's ever-guiding presence, they sang of the "mighty arm of God" that went ahead of God's people.
- When God wanted to speak to the people, he sent ahead a prophet with words of warning and comfort for Israel.
- When the political entity of Israel finally fell, God went ahead of the people into exile.
- When the women who had witnessed Jesus' death and burial went to anoint his body with spices, God went ahead of them to roll away the stone from in front of the now empty tomb.
God has been out ahead of God’s people every step along the way since the time of creation. Easter celebrates the greatest go-ahead step of all as Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, willingly "goes ahead" of us into the future, even into death, as the ultimate sign that God will be there out in front of us wherever life may take us, in and through and even beyond life’s physical end.
One consistent theme that all of the resurrection accounts have in common is the theme of fear. The disciples are afraid. The women are afraid. The Roman guards are afraid. I find the pervasive presence of fear in the gospel accounts to be gripping because frankly, as I listen my way into the experience of folks in today’s world I find lots of them, folks inside the church, folks outside the church, living lives that are filled with fear:
- fear of the economy and how it affects our families,
- fear of failures that haunt our past,
- fear of the dark side that resides deep within our souls,
- fear of not being accepted,
- fear of change,
- fear of failure,
- fear of whatever it is that deviates from a hopeful image of the world and of life that is safe and secure,
- fear of the worldwide pandemic in which we currently live.
And I’ve got to tell you that I long to be the kind of credible witness who can take these fearful folks by the hand, lead them to the tomb of Jesus, and listen as an angel says to them, “Don’t be afraid. What has happened is what he said would happen. Christ is victorious over everything there is to be afraid of, even death. He is risen, and you don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
Here’s how the Apostle Paul says it in Romans 8:
I am sure that nothing in life or in death will be able to
separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Believe that, and fear no more.
The message of the empty tomb doesn’t mean that followers of Jesus are somehow immune from the challenges and disappointments, from the very real hurt, pain, risk, and danger that are present in this unpredictable world in which we live. Tough things happen, including to people of faith. That’s a certainty. You can make a list of examples from your life, as I can from mine. Many of us reading this piece are smack dab in the middle of one of the most challenging, fearful times in our lives right now in this very moment.
The empty tomb does mean that ultimately, finally, in the deepest parts of our souls, we can know that the decisive power of this world is not the power of darkness and grief. It is the power of God’s love that prevails in an unmistakable and final way.
That’s Easter, my friends. The risen Christ is out ahead of us, beckoning us, encouraging us. The risen Christ is out ahead of us saying, “Come, follow me. Follow me into a new and hope-filled future. Follow me out of your fears and your insecurities and your doubts. Follow me, and together we’ll meet all those things head on.”
Grace and Peace,
East Central District
East Central District Office
The District Office will be closed during the pandemic. Claudia is available Mon-Fri 8:30am - 4:30pm remotely and will check vm daily. It is best to email her at email@example.com.
A Message from Kim & Melanie Lee, District Lay Leaders
Remember to Tap the Source
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 NIV Thank you, Lord. We surely need Jesus right now. So many of us are lost these days. The world is so unreal, so surreal – until it’s very real, until the present danger touches you and your family.
For many of us this Corona Virus (Covid-19) pandemic is an incredible nuisance, an irritating inconvenience, and a paranoia-like period of waiting and worry. Fighting something invisible and pervasive takes its toll on people. My mind immediately jumps to fighting the evil in the world, which we as Christian soldiers are called to take up our shields to counter every day. This pandemic presents a much more real enemy, even though it’s a microscopic invader. Evil still seems more nebulous to me than a virus. Still, they both require our faithful, steadfast, alert guard.
Continually being on patrol for the enemy, especially an unseen one, can slowly drain your joy pool. Happiness comes and goes, but the pool of joy flows constantly beneath. As Floridians, we depend on our aquifers to provide our consistent pools of fresh water. I have always pictured my pool of joy as a deeply buried body of living water, buoying my heart with a consistent pump of love connected to the Living God. Even when I’m at my lowest points, I know that pool of joy exists. Nothing can empty that pool, but experiences can make it feel as if the pool is inaccessible.
Lately, I have forgotten what I need to do to tap that living water. I know that all I really need to do is turn to the greatest model of a loving life we have ever been given, Jesus. He spent his time on Earth loving people, caring for people, healing people, giving to people. His life was never about him. It was all about the people around him. In the end, Jesus sacrificed his life for the people – those he knew and those he knew would come. That’s me! That’s you!
The lesson never changes. The way to tap into the pool of joy is to focus your love outward, to let the love of God flow through you to others in need. Who needs you today? What can you give? Who can you comfort?
Jesus chose the life of a servant. Why would we choose anything different?
Loving the Laity,
Melanie & Kim Lee
March 31 Reports - EXTENDED TO May 31, if needed!
The deadline for March 31 Reports has been moved to May 31, if you need it. If you don't need more time, please send them in! Please submit the six reports together in one email to Claudia Sava firstname.lastname@example.org. Originals should remain in the church offices as the District Office shreds all documents once they are scanned. If you have any questions, please email Claudia Sava.
Note: The Disaster Recovery Resource Survey is no longer required.
Explanation of Reports and Committee Responsible
- Fiscal Responsibility & Management Policy Review & renew annually. Each year, submit a signed copy of the one page Financial Controls, Policies & Procedures and the Document Retention Policy.
- Fund Balance Report - Submit online through your Church Dashboard. Do not send a hard copy to the District.
- Clergy Employee Conduct Policy ALL appointed clergy must submit this to the District each year.
- Adoption of Employee Conduct Policy Submit this report showing that you have adopted the ECP and have a Employee Conduct Policy signed on each employee. The signed Employee Conduct Policy form must be kept in their personnel file. This does not get sent to the District office.
- Child / Youth Protection Policy Review & renew annually. Submit a signed copy of this report. Should the policy undergo major revisions, submit a complete copy. Click HERE for the Ministry Protection page.
- Annual Parsonage Report Review & renew annually. If your pastor does not live in it, we still want this completed. If you don't own a parsonage, please write N/A and submit it.
For detailed instructions on reports, please review the Calendar of Reports.
Annual Assessment of Clergy Leadership
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cabinet and the Office of Clergy Excellence has agreed to postpone the deadline for annual clergy evaluations for non-moving clergy to September 30, 2020. For those clergy who are moving, their evaluations will likely need to be conducted virtually and must be completed by June 30, 2020. The completed forms should be emailed to Claudia Sava email@example.com.
The clergy assessment process is available on the FLUMC website under Clergy Excellence.
NOTE: This is required for every clergy appointed to the local church. These evaluations are not required for extension ministers or deacons working beyond the local church setting.
Annual Conference 2020 Update
- Our Annual Conference event will take place on Saturday, September 19 from 10:00am to 5:00pm. This will be a one day annual conference and the agenda will consist of:
a. Voting on essential items (budget, election of leadership, election of lay leader, etc.)
b. Retirement recognition
c. Service of Remembrance
d. Service of Commissioning and Ordination
We invite all lay and clergy members of the annual conference to plan to attend this one day event. We understand that some may not feel comfortable gathering in large settings at that time. The details, including the location for our September event are being finalized.
Lay Servant Ministries Basic Course:
Connecting and Serving During COVID-19 - Online
May 26 | 3 Weeks | $25
During this time of pandemic and isolation, many of us have to remain home and separated from family, church, and friends. Reconnect with our United Methodist history and faith and learn how to reach out to others in this one-of-a-kind pilot course in Lay Servant Ministries offered at a discount price.
Learn online while connecting with others who want to lead better without losing time from your work and loved ones. Easy and doable even if you are new to online learning. The Basic Course is a requirement towards becoming a Certified Lay Servant, but it is open to all lay members in The Florida Conference. Six of the required 10 hours will be offered online with an additional four hours through use of Zoom Meeting software. This course is being offered online on a limited basis to meet needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and is only approved for use within The Florida Conference. Questions? Contact Florida Conference LSM Director, Rod Groom 941-356-4566. Register today at BeADisciple.com.