Letting the Church’s Light Shine

By Eileen Gilmer, Associate Pastor

I recently took a class at Wesley Theological Seminary. It was taught a pastor from the United Church of Christ. She had us look at a writing by Marianne Williamson. Here’s the passage:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Then, the professor invited us to look at this passage again. This time, she told us to change the subject from being about us, to being about the Church. Let’s look at it again:

“The Church’s deepest fear is not that it is inadequate. The Church’s deepest fear is that it is powerful beyond measure. It is the Church’s light, not darkness that most frightens the Church. The Church asks itself, ‘Who is the Church to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who is the Church not to be? All the members are children of God. The Church playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others won’t feel insecure around the Church. The Church is meant to shine, as children do. The Church was born to make manifest the glory of God that is within all. It’s not just in some; it’s in everyone. And as the Church lets its own light shine, the Church unconsciously gives people permission to do the same. As the Church is liberated from its own fear, the presence of the Church automatically liberates others.”

When you remember that we are the church, this writing takes on even more impact. We are called to be empowered as children of God. As Williamson writes, we were “born to make manifest the glory of God that is within” each one of us. We are liberated by the love of Christ. I invite you to answer the call and live as God’s loved and confident child.

 

Together Everyone Achieves More

By Keith Lee, Associate Pastor

Vacation Bible School is scheduled for Aug 5-9 and the theme is To Mars and Beyond. VBS is not just one of the large events that we sponsor for the community but a wonderful avenue of interacting, building relationships, serving, and blessing our McLean neighbors. It provides a wonderful opportunity that we should develop to its fullest potential. The biggest obstacle is lack of volunteers. We turn away ten to twenty students every year due to overcrowding. The good news is that we have the TEAM strategy: Together Everyone Achieves More. Basically, it is about recruiting friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers.

In my experience, a major bottleneck to a healthy church life is a lack of volunteers. This is true in growing a church or developing children’s programs. Volunteers are difficult to recruit especially in the Northern Virginia area where over-commitment is a way of life. However, a solution might be found in utilizing a network of relationships in our lives. The effectiveness of this was demonstrated by our VBS team leaders, Marci and Jen. I noticed that one of the reasons for the success of Trinity’s VBS is that they recruited their neighbors, friends and family members.

This is an excellent approach because, first of all, church members are always asked to volunteer. Many people respond gladly. We intend to keep recruiting from our members. But we encounter limitations due to a finite number of members and conflicting summer vacation plans. Reaching into relationships outside of Trinity has been fruitful; almost half of volunteers and students are non-Trinity members. We would like to continue and develop this approach.

Second, this recruitment of volunteers invites others to share in the joy of serving wonderful children. Almost all of the volunteers including myself, find VBS to be an encouraging and inspiring experience. The energy and excitement, friendly and warm interactions, fun and memorable activities, and serving with other volunteers and students make VBS not just a program but a cherished event. Therefore, it is an opportunity to receive as well as to give.

Third, inviting volunteers is an excellent way to introduce our church. Visiting a new church can be intimidating. However, asking someone to volunteer gives a person a purpose and a time frame to check out our church. It is a neutral form of invitation.

There are many other benefits of recruiting from our personal network of relationships. But the bottom line is the idea of working together, building a team, and creating a cohesive community. To extend this idea further, let us build teams when we take on tasks in life or church because Together Everyone Achieves More!

 

The World Is How We View It

By James C. Sprouse, Senior Pastor

In today’s world it isn’t always easy to talk about spiritual things. Our world is sort of how we think of it. When we think the world is godless and soulless, it tends to become that. And so, if you and I want to live in a world made in God’s image, then you and I need to purge ourselves of all the ways we view this world that stop us from realizing the life and world God wants us to have. Understanding all the various worldviews is the key to breaking free of the power they have over the human mind and soul.

There have only been a handful of worldviews in modern history and normally they function on a subconscious level. We tend to be unaware of their existence. Here is a simple typology of the different worldviews that have shaped human history ‘til now.

The Ancient Worldview– This is often reflected in the Bible. Everything on earth has a heavenly counterpart. If war begins on earth, then God must be warring with some cosmic deity or force. Likewise events initiated in heaven are mirrored on earth. This is a way of saying that every material reality also has a spiritual dimension, and every spiritual reality has physical dimensions.

The Spiritualist Worldview– In this view, creation was followed by the “fall.” Spirit is good, material is bad. Our world is an asylum into which spirits have fallen from a good heaven. The religious task is to rescue one’s spirit from the wiles of the flesh and regain the spiritual realm from which we have fallen. This worldview is still a powerful factor in sexual hang-ups, eating disorders, negative self-images and the rejection of one’s body. This spiritual worldview is also reflected in those forms of the Christian faith that overemphasize the goal of getting to heaven and escaping this present vale of tears.

The Materialist Worldview– is the dominant worldview in the US today. This view claims there is no heaven, no spiritual world, no God, no soul; nothing but what can be known through our senses and reason. The spiritual realm is illusion. There is no higher self, just complexes of matter, and when we die we cease to exist except as chemicals and atoms. People have to create values, purposes, and meaning for themselves. The only right and wrong are what societies agree upon for the purposes of survival and tranquility.

The Theological Worldview– This view concedes earthly reality to science but claims special privilege to the spiritual realm. Many seminaries once taught that science tells us how the world was created, religion tells us why. The price paid for this schizoid worldview is the loss of a sense of the whole and the unity of heaven and earth.

The Integral Worldview– This view sees everything as having both an outer and inner aspect. Heaven and earth are seen as the inner and outer aspects of a single reality. In this view, soul permeates the universe. The universe is suffused with the divine. Spirit is at the heart of everything, all creatures, all living things are potential revealers of God. This worldview makes biblical information more intelligible for people of today than any other worldview, the ancient one included.

Worldviews determine what we are allowed to believe about the world. And, we may be the first generation in the history of the world that can make a “conscious” choice between these worldviews. You and I can, must, decide which worldview best describes the world we encounter, and whether or not we want to take personal responsibility for our own worldview’s relationship to what happens in our church, our country, and the world. And, what its future will look like.

Shalom, Jim

When the Church Finds Itself at a Crossroads

By Eileen Gilmer, Associate Pastor

If you have been around United Methodists for any length of time, you know that we like committees, gatherings of people and food—maybe not in that order. Our polity (the way we’re organized as a church) is structured in a way that encourages this (the committees and gatherings, not the food).

Trinity is a member of the Virginia Conference. Each conference across the globe meets annually to discuss the business of their area. Once every four years, representatives from each conference come together for General Conference. It’s there that items are voted on that can change our Book of Discipline (BoD)—the scary-sounding name of what is, for all intents and purposes, the rule book of the worldwide Methodist Church.

What does the BoD say? First, all people are welcome here.

¶ 4. Article IV. Inclusiveness of the Church: The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth.

¶ 214. Eligibility: All people may attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments and become members in any local church in the connection.

During at least the last two General Conferences (2012 and 2016), attempts were made to have discussions about what the church should do regarding two topics: ordaining gay clergy and allowing clergy to perform weddings of same-sex couples. Here’s what the BoD states about the ministry of the ordained:

¶ 304.3: The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

¶ 341.6: Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.

A special committee (the Commission on a Way Forward) made up of clergy and laity has worked for the last two years on a plan for the church. Here are the commission’s three suggestions.

One Church Plan (recommended by the Council of Bishops of the UMC): Allows conferences to make decisions regarding ministry with or by LGBTQ persons rather than having a single standard throughout the worldwide church. It removes certain language (mentioned above) from the BoD. It gives conferences, churches and pastors the flexibility to decide whether to ordain gay clergy or allow same-sex marriages. This plan would also protect the rights of United Methodists whose theological convictions will not allow them to perform same-sex weddings or ordain LGBTQ people.

Traditionalist Plan: Affirms the current language about homosexuality in the BoD and seeks to strengthen enforcement (against clergy) for violations of church law.

Connectional-Conference Plan: Creates three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values. Annual conferences would determine their affiliation with one of the connectional conferences. Local churches who choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference could vote to join another conference.

A special session of the General Conference has been called to hash out a plan. These three plans, plus any others that may be brought forth, will be voted on at the meeting on February 23-26 in St. Louis. This is not the final step. The regular General Conference and each annual conference must also approve the final plan. You’ll find more details at umc.org.

We’ll have a town hall meeting following worship in March to discuss which plan was selected and what happens next. Please be in prayer for all those in attendance and for our United Methodist Church.

 

Three Thoughts from 2019’s First Snow Day

By Keith Lee, Associate Pastor

It has been awhile since we had a snow storm in our area so when it descended on Jan 12, I was caught off guard. But after struggling through it while being stuck in my house for almost three days I came to realize it was quite a spiritual experience.

Life is Unpredictable

Weather forecasters were not helpful in preparing for the storm. Some said it was going to be heavy while others thought it might just pass over. Even the ones who called for snow hedged, saying it could be a couple to eight inches. I’m reading this and thinking “You guys are NOT helpful at all!”

Moreover, the snow came on the weekend. As a pastor, anything that interferes with Sunday worship stirs anxiety and frustration. Therefore, Saturday night was an uneasy restless affair. Early Sunday morning the staff exchanged a flurry of texts and decided the storm was not heavy enough to cancel services but warranted for us to urge caution to parishioners. We had about fifty in attendance for both services. The sense of uncertainty made me anxious the whole morning before church.

However, during the first service a sense of peace came over me because I became aware of my annoyance at unpredictability. I chuckled a bit thinking this is really nothing. Life seems capricious and thus inconveniently annoying. That’s what makes it so interesting.

 Snow is Beautiful Yet Dangerous

The moment I opened my front door the wintery neighborhood took me back a bit; so beautiful! As I was driving to church on I-66, Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons played in my head. My eyes intermittently wandered onto tall snow-covered trees on the sides, reminding me of those in Ansel Adams’ photos. Then my car slipped a bit because the pavement was still covered with slush. It was a beautiful slow trek slipping and sliding through I-66, on through Chain Bridge Road and into the Trinity lot. I was thankful to arrive safely with a heavy dose of respect for beauty all around me.

Resting is Difficult Work

Snow covered everything, life came to a standstill. Schools were closed and it was an unexpected day off. So why couldn’t I enjoy it? Because the amount of work does not diminish. Even though it seems like a day off, I will have less time to tackle all the tasks before me. Thoughts like these swarmed my head the whole Monday morning and afternoon. Then finally around 5 p.m., I relented. I am just going to relax and enjoy this time with my family. Relaxing is really difficult.

With this past storm as a reflection point, I’m ready for the next one. Bring on the snow!

 

A Grand Adventure Story

By James C. Sprouse, Senior Pastor

A well constructed story appeals to us all because everything that happens contributes to the whole, and we, most of us, often wish that all the events of our own lives contributed to some overall meaning in the same way. In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton described how he eventually came to the conviction that all life was like a story – a grand adventure story. Adventure stories usually have some important goal that requires great dedication if it is to be achieved; they tell of the valor of loyal companions who face danger and endure losses in achieving that goal. Chesterton showed that this “life as adventure” theme is also present in the Christian understanding of life.

You and I express who we are in the form of the stories we tell about ourselves. We introduce ourselves to other people by telling them where we are from, where we were educated, who we know, whether we are married and have family, and sometimes, what our goals are, etc. We do this because our identity is achieved slowly, through time, and it cannot be expressed apart from an account of our specific passage through time. Let us remember those who in 2018 passed from time-bound life to life eternal: Ruth Mutchler, Woody Rogers, John Sadler and Doug Swanson.

You, I and all who worship with God at Trinity Church are on a grand adventure together. Only God knows what wonderful adventures lay ahead for us in year 2019; what new faces will join our happy throng; what familiar faces will disappear from our earthly fellowship. We are all just passing through time. So, with full confidence that God knows where our journey leads, let’s embrace one another with an esprit de corp. and enthusiasm for ministry together with Christ that we write our names on the pages of volume 2019 of the greatest story still being told.

Shalom,

Jim

How Conversation Works: Becoming a Better Communicator

By Eileen Gilmer, Associate Pastor

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.                  Colossians 4:6

How good of a communicator are you? Would you like to learn ways to be more effective when talking with family, friends, colleagues or even those you meet for the first time?

In January, we’ll begin a six week class, How Conversation Works: Six Lessons for Better Communication. Here are the topics:

  • How to become conversationally aware
  • How the conversational floor works
  • How and when to be direct and indirect
  • How to navigate face-threatening acts
  • How to negotiate professional relationships
  • How to maintain relationships with talk

We’ll base the classes on sessions led by Anne Curzan, a Yale grad, and linguistics and language professor at the University of Michigan. Just in the first few classes, we’ll look at how the word um can speak volumes and can even change the direction of the conversation.

We’ll also dive into conversational work, finding out what to do if you’re the only one doing the heavy lifting in the conversation.

Our first class will be January 6 at 9:30 a.m. in room 302 in the Fellowship Building. I hope you can join us.

I’ll see you in church!