Aug 052013

For over 10 years I’ve been a member of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church here in Tampa. I started attending an older adult Sunday School class because of my interest in the topics. I wound up doing some substitute teaching, and starting a little over two years ago, I wound up teaching full-time, and now have the help of another person.

Photo of Rev. Bruce Toms

Rev. Bruce Toms

Recently, as is the custom with Methodist churches, we got a new pastor, Bruce Toms. I was glad for the change, hoped for the best, and could have been a champion for the guy, but that’s not to be. I’d been told that he was bit conservative, but the previous pastor, Kevin James, was certainly no bleeding heart liberal. Toms has taken it to new heights though.

In August of 2008 I opened a discussion with the Administrative Council of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church about the adoption of an inclusive statement of welcome and non-discrimination. It was “A Resolution for Justice.” In 2008, frankly, I was met with a tremendous amount of ugliness from the likes of Kevin James, the Pastor at the time, and then head of the Personnel Committee, Bill Josey, who actually physically pushed Phil Waters, the presiding officer aside, and took over the meeting.

I spent the intervening three years advancing the conversation within the church body itself, and returned to the Administrative Council in August of 2011. This time, a large contingent of people supportive of such a resolution attended. There was a passionate discussion, and the Council heard personal stories of the harm that the messages often conveyed under the guise of religion can cause to young lesbian and gay people, and how they are often driven away from the Church because of a lack of real welcome. There was spirited debate, both sides arrived at a compromise, and a consensus was reached. Shortly after that, a statement of welcome and non-discrimination, completely and fully compliant with the language of the Discipline of the United Methodist Church was adopted. As planned, it was published to the Church website, and despite the concerns of only one or two, no one left this Church as a result.

The statement reads simply:

“We affirm that worship and membership at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church is open to all who seek to know Christ and share His love, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or economic status, and we welcome and respect all members of our community without regard to these characteristics.”

During an early personal conversation with Toms, he indicated he wanted the statement off the site. About a month ago, the site was redesigned, and the statement was left off. This started a downward spiral in my relationship to Palma Ceia United Methodist Church, The Methodist Church writ large, Bruce Toms, and even the Chair of the Administrative Council, Marty Peate. Continue reading »

Sep 112011

I seem to be called on often to give the prayer at the end of our Sunday School class. We just started a study of the Beatitudes, and of course the 9/11 commemoration services were all over the TV and radio this morning. Just before going into Church I heard President Obama at the Memorial in New York read Psalm 46. I try to make the prayer topical with current events and the lesson, so this is most of what I recall saying:

Father God, at this time of remembrance you are our refuge and strength, but we confess our sin of fear…rational fear and irrational fear which has caused us the mistrust and suspicion of our neighbors and brothers and sisters around the world…a fear that has driven us to war. You are the God who bends the bough, breaks the spear, and burns the chariot in the fire. You are also the God who has called “blessed” the peacemakers. Send us out in peace as peacemakers. Amen

Everyone is writing something about 9/11. Plenty will write words more fitting of the occasion, so I’ll leave my discussion to this prayer.

A New Series-Prayers and Meditations

 Religion, Society  Comments Off on A New Series-Prayers and Meditations
Jan 032010

It seems I’m frequently asked to offer the closing prayer for my Sunday School class. I guess some are good enough that I’ve been asked to get them down for possible future publication. This seems to be as good a place as any. So this may be the first in what may become a series.

Right now we are studying Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life.” I’m not thrilled about that. Today’s lesson was about making God smile. While I usually try to tie the prayer to the lesson, I didn’t really do that today.

Father God, we stand today at that unique place on the calendar where we shrug off the tatters of the old year, and look forward to  a new year with the hope and opportunities offered by new beginnings. Use this time to remind us that because of your unbounded grace, each day can be a new beginning; a re-committment to faith; and a renewal of spirit. Help us learn that same grace that we might forgive those who trespass against us, and while we pray they be few, give that same grace to others that they may forgive our trespasses.

We confess that in the past decade we have allowed our civil discourse to become harsh. We have clinched our fists, crossed our arms, and divided ourselves…not only across geographic lines, but across beliefs, ideologies, and most sadly, religion. We have adopted a dangerous arrogance that we alone are right, and therefore all others must be wrong.

We have been reminded across the ages by the prophets and sages that we are all your children, and as such we are, each one living today, those who came before, and all who will come after, brothers and sisters. We pray for the strength to put aside our petty sibling rivalries, lay down our weapons, un-cross our arms, un-clinch our fists, and open our hearts to that simple great commandment given us by your son, that we love you, and love one another. We ask this in his name…