Friday, February 12, 2016

Lent: A Time to Fast and Pray

Greetings in God’s Love!  

The Pre-GC Briefings in Central Conferences have begun!  

A question came to me at the briefing from a delegate in a rural area of the Philippines.  Because I spoke the language, he asked me the question in his native tongue.  Here was the question translated: “Why are our apportionments going up when we in our tiny rural farming community can barely pay for our pastor’s salary and our own ministries?  Why do we have to pay anything when we don’t see the benefits of paying our apportionments?”  As you all know, the Central Conferences are being asked to increase their contributions to the apportionments in some areas in order to get to our “equitable sharing of our God-given gifts” value which we have been conveying across the connection.  I told this man that this is the same question that is being asked in many rural faith communities in the United States and across other parts of our connection.  I did my best to articulate the gifts and graces of being a part of the body of Christ and sharing in blessings of abundance that God gives us when we remember one another and joyfully offer our “widow’s mite” for God’s mission through the Church.  

It really is a hard conversation to have when we see how many people throughout our connection are struggling to offer that “widow’s mite.”  It makes me all too aware of our deep role and responsibility in spending these God given resources called apportionments.  Remembering that they come from the rural farmer in the Philippines who is offering what little he has, entrusting us to do God’s work faithfully with his pesos.  It’s the same with the small rural churches throughout the U.S., who are struggling to keep their doors open as they watch their membership dwindle and they feel the pressure of bills accumulating and yet, they willingly offer to God their apportionments, expecting us to be good stewards of these resources.  This question is not necessarily just about money, it’s more about our ecclesiology and our stewardship.  Who are we as a church?  What are we doing with those resources?  This question is about whether or not this delegate trusts that we, as church leaders, are doing the right things with the precious resources they are entrusting to our care.  How are we building the Kingdom of God?  How are we bringing HOPE to the broken world with the money that has been set aside for this connectional work?  How are we offering Christ through every meeting, every gathering, every dollar that is spent?  Our understanding of our ecclesiology should be a part of this narrative of stewardship.  It’s not about what’s in it for ME (or my local church, or my annual conference, or my agency), it’s about Jesus Christ work in the world THROUGH each and every one of us!

As we continue to prepare for General Conference 2016, I know the delegates are going to be asking more questions like this farmer from the Philippines.  I pray that as the church, we will take time during this Season of Lent to search our own hearts and souls and be prepared to respond openly and honestly about how we have used God’s resources entrusted to us to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World!”  Let us tell the stories of how Christ has helped cut the death rate of young children in Africa in half because of what he has done through our work on Imagine No Malaria!  Let us tell the stories of how Christ has used these gifts to ensure seminary students across our connection are receiving scholarships and E-reader resources because of what God has done through our collaborative partnerships.  Let us tell the stories of how we as the UMC have joined other ecumenical leaders to engage in deep and thoughtful dialogue about being partners in mission and ministry through our full communion relationships.  There are so many stories to tell how God has multiplied the “widow’s mite” through the people called United Methodist for the sake of the mission.  Prepare your hearts and minds this lent to listen carefully to the whispers of the Holy Spirit so that we might be better stewards of these resources AND lift up the stories that build up the Body of Christ ensuring those who doubt that God is still using the people in and through The United Methodist Church that we are being faithful!

Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, PhD
Executive Secretary
The Connectional Table.