Preaching and teaching this week at the Texas Annual Conference, The Reverend Peter Storey, the long-time South African Pastor and former professor of Duke Divinity School, challenged clergy and laity alike to see anew what Jesus' friends look like. And, according to Storey, they are a somewhat different cast than many of the folks we have surrounding us in the UMC in America today.
In his Tuesday afternoon talk, Storey's remarks, by implication, drew stark parallels between white church life in South Africa before racial reconciliation and the current state of affairs in our own church. The more he described his location in South Africa, the more I saw similarities to our location in American suburban faith. For example, he mentioned that the current success of the prosperity gospel in Nigeria and elsewhere are actually transplants or copies from American preachers of weal.
Methodists should focus our concern on breaking out of the cultural bubble that keeps us from meeting the people that Jesus calls his friends: the poor, the untouchables, the unclean, the sick, the uneducated, the powerless, the oppressed. Instead of figuring out how to be "amateur politicians" in preparation for the next General Conference, we would better use our time by breaking out of the bubbled life that keeps us from encountering Jesus, who "always brings his friends with him!" WOW.
Well, there are some very concrete steps you can take to do this. It will refresh your spirit and your ministry but this growth also has to be a choice on a personal level. I offer some suggestions below, based on my personal experiences:
1. Volunteer for an activity at a long term care facility- they need you there! Many states have training for ombudsman (resident advocate) who visit nursing homes. And the training may be useful for anyone you already care for or about.
2. Participate in anything that gets you out of your comfortable faith community. The Amazing Faiths dialogues in Houston are done every fall and there are similar programs in Texas and New York. By the way, this program is based on the book, THE AMAZING FAITHS OF TEXAS.
3. Be a reading coach at a free and reduced meal school in your area. Help one or two students practice what they are learning.
You would be amazed at the friendships and connections that you will discover on the outside and a respect and appreciation for others that will be born on the inside. And you will meet some of Jesus' friends that have been missing from your life.
Peace to those who are near and to those who are far away! And thank you Peter!
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