Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Hell Debate Continues

A few weeks ago, I commented on the current "hell debate" sparked by the evangelical Rob Bell. Around that time, a friend of mine from seminary, Chad Holtz, offered his opinion on the issue in his blog, essentially siding with Bell. At the time, he was finishing out his 4-year term as a student pastor (a seminary student who also serves a rural United Methodist congregation in a part-time capacity), when some of his parishioners read the blog and decided that his views were far too radical for their small country church. He was asked to leave just a few months before the end of his appointment. Apparently, they had been reading his blog posts for years without commenting (unbeknownst to him) until this post, when (forgive the pun) all hell broke loose. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Since that time, he has received a lot of media interest- locally and nationally. Check out his thoughtful take on the hell debate, the fallout from losing his pulpit, and the current state of United Methodist polity.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Reflections on Easter

On this Easter Monday, I reflect on my first Holy Week experience as a pastor:

- He is risen!

- Trinity is a wonderful place to be in minsitry. Yesterday was the first time that Trinity has ever had three traditional services. Yet, somehow, they pulled it off beautifully! Although this is an established congregation, the people are so open and flexible to change- especially if it is the type of change that will improve the worship experience and its ability to reach out to visitors. The more I hear other pastors complain about the stubbornness of their congregation, and the more I see things like this happen, the more grateful I am to serve God in this place.

- No stripping of the altar. On Maundy Thursday, we did not strip the altars- a traditional Maundy Thursday ritual in many churches. In fact, I could not find anyone in this area who was familiar with the custom. This custom usually involves an elaborate (and to be honest, often slow and boring, but meaningful) act of worship where the liturgists remove all of the items on the altar, from the communion elements to candles to the cloth, and place them neatly elsewhere. But I was surprised to see that we did not incorporate that into Maundy Thursday worship at such a "traditional" place like Trinity. You can tell by my opinion of the service that I am not all that disappointed about it.

- Birmingham is well-churched. On Friday afternoon, I participated in "Way of the Cross". This is an event involving several churches in Homewood, where we process from Homewood Park to Edgewood Presbyterian (about a mile-long walk, I would guess). There are about a dozen stops during this procession, where one person leads a call-and-response liturgy with the group. Then someone else picks up a large wooden cross and carries it to the next stop while the "sojurners" either sing, walk in silence, or are led by a bagpiper. We had approximately twelve churches in attendance. It was covered in the newspaper and the local news (yes, I made it on camera!). The Birmingham area really cares about the church's role in public life, more so than any other place I've lived. Perhaps it has to do with its checkered past or the fact that I am living deeper in the Bible Belt than I have ever lived, but either way, I enjoy the challenge of serving in a place where faith seems so crucial to everyday life.

- "The cross is the sermon." Those were my senior pastor Andy Wolfe's words when I was making sure that there was not going to be sermon at the Good Friday service. Instead, after each of the 7 beautiful movements of Scripture reading and song that comprise the heart of this service, a candle around the cross was extinguished until the cross stood in complete darkness. Spoken words would not have been appropriate, indeed.

- North Carolina is a strange place. Today (the Monday following Easter) is historically considered a holiday in my home state. Not for any super-special relgious purpose. Instead, the state shuts down so that the legislature can get a day off in order to see NC State play Wake Forest in their annual matchup in Raleigh. I have no idea if this still goes on today, but now that I've grown up, this just seems like downright heresy. In the days following Easter, we ought to be inspired by God's power and go out in that power and try to change the world. But not in the Tar Heel state. We thank God on Sunday and watch college baseball on Monday. Not much world-transforming about that.