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Power in the pew

This month’s laity blog considers how people and communities remain faithful in the midst of change.

Co-Lay Leader, Michigan Conference

Life is complicated. You never really know where you are going and how the road will change. 

This month a small group from Pentwater Centenary’s Men’s Group visited a small cemetery on Tyler Road just out from the Oceana County Medical Care Facility. The Early Methodist Burial Ground wasn’t exactly where described. Carrie Mears, daughter of lumber baron Charles Mears, called it the Genereaux Cemetery. But then, the county road patterns —U.S. Presidents east and west, numbers north and south –hadn’t been snapped into place or Decoration Day proclaimed when the site with the cherry trees was chosen.

From our 2018 vantage point, everyone at this little parcel started out in one place and ended up in a very different place. Roads change, life is complicated.

President Tyler (Tyler Road) was frontier politician, suddenly President –they called him the Accident—and died in Confederate Richmond in 1862. Louis Genereaux was a French trader, married into Chief Cobmossa’s band who had ceded Grand Rapids and moved to Oceana County. Genereaux’s 1871 gravestone says he was 29. The County has marked his grave with a new flag and Civil War marker.

Unmarked but noted by Mears is the grave of Native American, Joseph Elliott. Elliott was the missionary assigned to the frontier district of Pentwater. He founded Centenary UM Church during the hard winter of 1856. Tithing in pork, potatoes and cash, the new congregation in Pentwater supported the tribe that first winter. Elliott is foundational to Hart UMC and returned in later life to a tribal name. This little grove of cherry trees along now Tyler Road was a good place to find him – again.

“Life is complicated. Places and people matter. And we all change.”

Life is complicated. Places and people matter. And we all change.

Annual Conference, 2018 Grand Traverse Resort may be complicated. Assembling this new conference into being sets us down an unfamiliar road. New rules, new structure and new issues ahead. And there are some issues for the larger church as it moves to a special General Conference, not a new idea but it has been decades since we met specially to look for direction.

In Nominations this year, we found that we didn’t know each other well, one side of the state to the other. We found pockets of talent in wonderful places! And there are unfilled positions as well. Starting often with blank slates, we found familiar faces volunteering to go forward and new names ready to enlist. District Lay Leaders bent to their task of finding At Large Delegates. They considered representation; and some districts have half of their members as first timers. Welcome to the change.

Places and people matter. And it is complicated.

The old process of appointments brings new sparks of challenge. Around the state, moving boxes are spread out for the packing. Appointment “season” is a reality again. How the old timers managed when the appointments were fresh news on the day of appointments, was something of a miracle. The pledge to stand ready to be assigned is a monumental commitment to your calling. Lay members stand ready to receive. That has its frustrations. As lay members really don’t always appreciate this process of connection, commitment and intentional challenge. Here I am, Lord.

Our brethren in congregational “call” systems shake their heads. A former Reformed Church member in our congregation said, “This change would have taken my old church two years!” There is a larger sense of the calling and urgency for the change. A church connected, a church on the move. We may know a few weeks or months ahead, but the changes come, a spark is struck, and the work goes on. 

These adjustments are work! Place matters (community) and people matter (for the transformation of the world). More than systems and organization, even new conferences, the place where you are is important. The people in your community and across the county and across the state are that  important. We embrace the complexity.

Joseph Elliott accepted a posting to the Pentwater Missionary District. He was received, became lifelong friends and renamed himself in the culture of his heritage. The spark of his coming, the words and his care for individuals, for the communities –native and Anglo –made a difference. Native fashion, he did not need, did not want a headstone. We plan to give him a marker.

“Pastors called to a place. Congregations caring for a place. And carrying a flame of hope.”

He didn’t work alone. From the logging camp dining hall, to Sunday school classes in homes, to an oyster supper to found a real church, transforming work moved from hand to hand. For this congregation to each congregation. Our stories are all different and they are all the same. We are a marker.

Pastors called to a place. Congregations caring for a place. And carrying a flame of hope. Even as we close some places at this Annual Conference, we honor that chain of call and the response of the people. And as we close, we restart, and we experience a fresh spirit.

One of our high school juniors pitched a perfect baseball game this spring. Quite an achievement!  And his catcher called and caught each pitch, and the fielders caught every hit.

In each congregation this spring, a team will catch each play – each box, each garage, each new coat of paint. The community will be explained, the worship team introduced, the connections with the school and the senior center put in place. Coffee served, music played, smiles of welcome. It is the little things-pitch by pitch. Team work in place and of change. 

And at Annual Conference, we feel that spark and hope as is our tradition. Life may be complicated but we do know where we are going. With God’s grace and guidance. 

Last Updated on May 28, 2018

The Michigan Conference