Friday, May 23, 2008


Note: This newsletter article was written for Mill Plain and Longview with two different endings.

We are living in a time where change is the norm and not the exception. Last week I was in the a retail store with my phone asking some questions about my cell phone service, when I showed it to the sales person he reacted like I had pulled out an antique, “Oh, I remember those.” I’m thinking, “Good grief, the phone isn’t even two years old yet.” I haven’t yet begun to think of switching to a newer phone but clearly there will be a day my phone will no longer be able to function as I need it to.

With change being a way of life the question for many is how and when do we choose to make a transition in our life with these changes? Making a transition is a choice. We cannot control the changes around us, but we can control our response (or non-response) to them.

When Jesus was preparing his disciples for the time that he would no longer be with them he made attempts to help them make the transition. He taught them intentionally about the presence of the Holy Spirit. He took time to reflect on what they had achieved together. He reminded each of them of their value to the continued ministry and he gave thanks to God for their faith. Soon the disciples are confronted not only with the life of Jesus but with his death and his resurrection as well! The disciple’s choice is how are we going to respond, what will be different in our life because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Pastoral changes are hard. Each situation is unique, no two situations are the same. In each change that is made we have a choice of how to respond and the people around us will be responding in a variety of ways. Some are grieving what is being lost, others are looking forward to what will be gained. Making a healthy pastoral transition takes into account both the grief and the anticipation of the clergy and the congregation. In order to receive one another well we also need to do our best to say goodbye well.

I have arranged for a couple of Sunday’s off between Longview and Mill Plain (my last Sunday at LUMC is June 15) in order for me to make as healthy of a transition as I can. Two weeks is still a short time to consider all the emotions of saying goodbye and preparing to say hello. Yet, I intend to do my best to spend that time resting and considering the possibilities of the future with Mill Plain UMC. I will also be giving thanks in prayer for the people of Longview UMC.

Longview UMC ending
So Thank You Longview United Methodist Church. Thank you, for receiving me with love, for being graceful when I made a mistake, for having the courage to say what you believe, for caring for my family and helping my daughter to grow in her faith, for the ways that you care for and love one another, for your passion for justice, for giving your time and energy so others would be welcome, for sometimes setting aside your desires to make room for guests, for standing up as a beacon of diversity in this community, for supporting others as they become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Mill Plain UMC ending
I am thankful for the opportunity, that all being well, I will soon be the pastor of Mill Plain UMC. I am thankful for Brian’s three years of leadership and service for the Church. I am thankful for Steve Lewis being available to preach so often in this interim period. I am thankful for all the staff, especially Ev, Debbie and Jeff for their ministry. I am thankful for all the work going on behind the scenes to prepare for my arrival. How will you give thanks for what was and prepare for what will be?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Five Years at LUMC

The following is an article that I hope will be published in "The Daily News" on Sunday

Acceptance of Diversity is a value held by many people. This past December churches that normally have difficulty agreeing about many things rallied around the acceptance of racial and ethnic diversity as we placed a large add in the Daily News with thousands of signatures. We joined with the young and old, rich and poor, powerful and weak as we marched on a cold December Sunday to announce to the community that hatred and racism were unwelcome in our community. We posted signs in the windows of our homes and cars that declared “we embrace diversity.”

Yet, embracing diversity takes more than a sign and a parade. We have a very human desire (need?) to congregate with others like us. We create organizations, clubs and even churches so that people like us can meet together. We might proclaim “everyone is welcome” or “come as you are” but we often hope that those who are different will conform to the majority. Sometimes we resort to creating fear about those who are different. As a youth and young adult growing up in Southwest Washington I was taught through jokes and rumors to be afraid of Gay people. I thank God that I did not submit to that fear.

Through my faith in Jesus Christ I understand that God loves all people. In my United Methodist denomination we have struggled with the issues of slavery, racism and sexism. Over time we have accepted that people of race are equal in God’s eyes, and that women have every right to equality with men in home, work and the church. As a denomination we are still trying to understand diversity as it pertains to acceptance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people. I am thankful for churches such as Longview United Methodist Church where we are learning to follow Christ without fear. We believe that God is calling us to responsible, loving relationships and we reject the exploitation of sex in our society. We believe the gender of who you love is less important than the quality of your love.

Today, May 18, 2008 is the fifth anniversary of Longview United Methodist Church opening its doors to all people. In those five years the ministry of our church has been blessed with spiritual and numerical growth. We have celebrated the baptisms of those who discovered God’s love and forgiveness. We have welcomed others who had been told not to come back by other churches. We have witnessed the joy of couples making a commitment to a life long monogamous relationship with one another.

Our greater Cowlitz County community is diverse. We have people of many nations, languages, races, cultures and sexual orientations. As we grow to understand the diversity around us, I believe we will grow in our understanding of God’s universal love. I hope that you will consider the opportunity to embrace the full diversity in our community not only in regards to race but also in regards to those neighbors of ours who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

If you have the opportunity we would be very happy to welcome you to our Sunday morning worship at 10:00, or for this evening’s special concert by the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus at 6:00.
Grace and Peace, Rev. Bruce Smith

Thursday, May 08, 2008


I visited Adam Hamilton's blog yesterday.

I really respect Adam and although we do not really know each other I feel like he is someone who I could have a conversation with and not feel condemned. However, it was terribly frustrating to read the comments on his blog. Those anonymous commentators and their quick judgements!

Basically two commentators wanted to know how the church could condone "those sinners" and questioned the UMC's understanding of discipleship.

I resisted the urge to reply only because I knew I was too steamed up to be helpful. So while I helped with making dinner in the kitchen I began to wonder what happened to STRE? The Wesleyan Quadrilateral that has been taught for nearly 40 years in the United Methodist Church?

What has happened to reading Scripture with our Tradition, Reason and Experience? Albert Outler did the church a great service when he wrote about the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral." Yet, many of my conservative friends simply want to read Scripture, seemingly to me, in a vacuum. Scripture has always been read in a particular context. In the western world of 2008 our understanding of homosexuality is based on good scientific and psychological research. I know faithful Christian people who give testimony to their religious Experience as GLBT people. Why is it harmful to read scripture the same way Methodists have been reading it for nearly 300 years?

How long, how long must we sing this song?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Hope for the future

This is the last post to be labeled "General Conference 2008." I will of course be blogging about the Upcoming Jurisdictional Conference. Can jurisdictional conference be about more than episcopal elections? I believe it is time for the west to engage with all the other jurisdictions and the international regional conferences in a dialogue around what it means to be the United Methodist Church. The west has been under attack and it is time for us to unite with others to stop the attacks.

I have hope that as a new generation of leadership rises and the current generation of leaders matures the bitterness of past battles will fade so that we can work through our differences in a new way. It appears to me that some people from the far conservative wing of the church are acting out of fear. Their fear has led them to some questionable tactics that will not work. I hope they can grow out of their fear and engage in mutual dialogue. Those in the South East working out of fear are abusing statistics in attempts to gain power and control. (There were two attempts to reduce the Western Jurisdiction to 2 or 3 bishops instead of our current 6 brought to you by our good friends of the IRD and "Good New.")

I have hope that the "left" can engage with the middle in new ways. The moment of witness on Thursday was a powerful moment where the church recognized its brokenness and in recognizing that which has broken us I believe we can begin the healing.

I have hope that the UMC will be a growing vibrant church for the next generation.

From Thursday May 2

Note to reader. This was published on the conference blog but I forgot to post it here at my blog. If you haven't checked out the conference site yet you should.

After finishing Wednesday’s blog post at 2:00 A.M. (Thursday technically I suppose) I slept for 3 hours and got up for what I knew would be another important morning.

The western jurisdiction meeting went well and we had the opportunity to meet Angela Brown from the Cal-Nevada A.C. who we had helped elect to the Jurisdictional Council.
As I sit here I can’t recall what the morning legislation was. Oh yeah, it was around the report on the world wide church which for now is simply changing the language of the international “Central” conferences to “Regional.” There was some argument about the possibility of the US becoming a regional conference and that will be part of a larger study in the next quadrennium.

There was a beautiful moment of witness on the brokenness of our church around the issue of homosexuality. The Bishops participated in a variety of ways which was very impressive. Basically about 200 volunteers from around the country came dressed in black and formed a cross in the aisles. At the center communion table it was shrouded in black and we were invited to lay a veil on the alter for the brokenness of the church. It is clear now from the 45-55 vote and the participation from the delegates that this is no longer a small minority vs. the majority, we are a church of many minds broken over one issue and YET also one church together in hope. I really believe that.

We are ONE diverse church. I believe God’s call for us is to learn how to be in relationship while we disagree. That unity is well displayed in our ability to come together in mission. Perhaps that is why the whole basketball thing is so important. It is something we can focus on and agree about together. Saving lives for the here and now is a value of our discipleship in following Jesus Christ.

Today will have more legislation and busy-ness. But it is also a time of reflection on a week filled with many moments of basic human frailty and also many moments of humanity experiencing the the living God. Pray for one more day of Holy Conferencing.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

And . . . That's a wrap

The General Conference Session of 2008 concluded its business at 11:14 local time. Followed by a sermon from Bishop Palmer. Frankly it took a while to start listening as I was ready to simply get back to the hotel.

So what happened today?

The committee on the General Conference Agenda made a motion that was easily carried that the 2012 session have no business scheduled on the Sunday of its meeting! Yippee.

The budget passed easily.

The close votes of the day were with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. (An agency the United Methodist Church began in 1972) The RCRC is getting hammered by the far right with many half truths and just plain lies. (Where is all this fear and hatred coming from?) The UMC has voted to continue its support and affiliation with the RCRC but by a very narrow margin.

Some surprising good news of the day. One of our delegation noticed that on a consent calendar item the UMC has made the following statement (altering Paragraph 161 A for those following in their program) “The family: We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect and fidelity. We affirm the importance of loving parentsfor all children. We also understand the family as encompassing a wider range of options than that of the two-generational unit of parents and children (the nuclear family) We affirm shared responsibility for parenting where there are two parentsand encourage social, economic, and religious efforts to maintain and strengthen relationships within families in order that every member may be assisted toward complete personhood.”

This was a hard day for the “IRD” a far right conservative group with political motivations to change the church. The items they brought to the General Conference were generally defeated by good margins.

I sat on the floor for the closing speed legislation session. It was at first frustrating as people would go the the microphone on an issue that wasn’t going to be a close vote. Eventually everyone stayed seated and in the final hour we passed 30 items.

I think I will do one more final thoughts post before signing off. Presently it is 2:00 A.M. and I still haven’t packed!