Being a Pastor Post Covid-19

What is it like being a pastor of three congregations right now in the midst of such an unusual crisis? What is it like being a rural pastor, where people can tell you more in a hug or a handshake than in an hour of conversation? How has ministry continued in the midst of a complete shutdown of physical attendance in our sanctuaries, and visitation in our homes as we “social distance” from one another? Perhaps I can give a few word pictures of what it has been like as we enter our fifth week of protecting each other from the pandemic while doing ministry.

We usually start off most days with exercise at the YMCA, where I can walk the track and read for upcoming sermons and teaching while the two little ones get childcare and my wife enjoys the gym. Ransom is at school most school days, and Harper is easier when she is alone and can’t bother her big brother. I am usually in the office most afternoons working or doing visitations. Around 4:30 pm, I come home for dinner with the family, then in the evenings there are often meetings or an occasional Bible Study being lead.

There is no such thing as “normal” now.

Days start early with the kids eating, then move into schoolwork, then into play, and then into some cartoons, then into lunchtime, then into outside exercise, then into nap-time. This is the time I am able to have about two hours of uninterrupted writing, reading, communicating, calling, prayer, preaching recording etc. Two hours or less depending on the nap. Amanda is usually gracious when I’m on a deadline but I usually have 3-4 hour blocks to practice guitar, worship, think through problems, pray and meet up. The day goes by quickly, because we are at home more, eating at home more, in spaces more, the house gets messier more which means more cleaning time, more dishes, more time cleaning up after the kids. All things come in randomly, and so work happens whenever it can happen. I have a Kindle I can grasp, Facebook groups for prayer, Live Video at designated times, iMovie on the laptop for quick worship editing, cell phone receiving texts with special music and calls and texts for prayer and comfort while members are going through tough times.

The first two weeks of having no service physically and working from home were two things. (1) A blinding light of “just get stuff done” all over the place. Easter was coming! I watched every news report, read all the articles, followed the Bishop’s communications, prayed with people over the world constantly, and when the smoke cleared, I realized as well that it was: (2) An incredibly stressful experience completely reorienting ministry from a ministry of presence, to being present virtually. Sunday mornings were the toughest. I had to imagine my congregation as I preached, and get into the sense that the Spirit of God would spread the Good News despite the lack of touch – which is the very sign of the incarnation and the center of our theology in Christianity. That God is physical, not just a spiritual entity without a care for our very physical world. I had to learn to give lots of “hearts” on comments, and wish folks “Good Morning” on a video premier and on Youtube comments – while wrestling our very active and loving children, who like myself, are very loud.

And listening to myself preach. Well, I’ll just say that it is very hard to sit and watch oneself – knowing how much better one can be without the distractions. HOLY SPIRIT TAKE THE WHEEL! “Lord I pray you’ll speak through me, but if not, speak in spite of me!” The greatest prayer for a preacher speaking on the word of God.

As pastors, we love our congregations, the people, so much it is hard to convey how it feels to do Zoom meetings that just aren’t as organic or warm as meeting together in a fellowship hall. I also am reminded of the lament of having to cancel our Elder’s Music and Food Fellowship meetings, a Homecoming that would have united one of our church family’s members in dispersal, men’s breakfasts, women’s mission and prayer meetings, youth groups, exercise groups, and servant leadership development, and not to mention the countless ways that God’s saints meet on the side and show love to their neighbor.

But before I lament too long, I have to highlight what the Lord continues to do among us as a Kingdom that is unshakeable. Every evening our young people have been meeting for devotion and prayer and there has been a depth gained from that kind of discipline. Our worship services, which are online now, seem to be reaching between 300-400 people regularly, often with over 1,000 views of the services. Musicians have been sending music, and in the future we will have a stockpile of worship services to share with the community, the homebound, for those in other states of countries. Personally, my mom and dad have joined in worship and Bible Studies on Zoom, and we have had someone from London, England join us regularly.

There is something of a quiet revival happening under the surface, and I pray that the Lord continues to breathe new life into our many currents so that when we return together (oh how glorious it will be!), we will be remade from this temporary monasticism which has been forced upon us by a natural disaster called Covid-19.

God can use this trial to refine us and prepare us for a greater good to come. I say that not to minimize the grieving of the 40,000 people in the us and 160,000 people who so far have lost their lives, but I say it in faith, because I know as a pastor who presides over funerals and also baptizes and also officiates weddings – that God holds us in the palm of His hands in Life and in Death. Nothing can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus! Absolutely nothing! See this:

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39 NLT

Right now, I am praying that the Lord would continue to guide us. I also pray that I am being the leader our people need right now. That as we are in this “pause” that we don’t lose the opportunity to reset the clock, and ask the Lord if we truly are doing what God is calling us to do and not our own selfish desires, or what is comfortable. Let us be refined in this fire, and may the same God that got Daniel through the Lion’s Den, and who saved his friends from the firey furnace, the same God who delivered the Hebrews from Egypt, the same God who gave us his own presence through Jesus Christ, and who laid down his own life – lets be listening and ready, because on the other side of this hill is a promised land we can’t imagine. We simply have to keep moving, and we will get there.

As a pastor, my jobs is to remind everyone of the faithfulness of God through the ages, so that we might remember and see the future more clearly. Certainly, we now have the time for reflection. Let’s take the deep breath together and feel out what this all means for our churches, our families, and our communities. May compassion flow from these old riverbeds, and may new life grow in the deserted places, as a pathway for the Lord is laid, and the wilderness prepares to bloom again. God is good, and is always with us. Let’s stand and see what’s to come.

-Pastor Daniel R. Griswold,

The Ridgeville Charge of the United Methodist Church of South Carolina

My Personal Thoughts on Division in the United Methodist Church

3 Sections

  1. Where I Am Coming From
  2. The Church and Our Divide on Scripture
  3. The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Where I’m Coming From

God called me into the United Methodist Church only 10 years ago. I was reading a lot of John Wesley and had read a bit of the discipline. I had observed the polity and practical theology, and seeing that the movement was geared towards getting people into mission for Christ through a great network called Connectionalism, I joined the family. Being a history guy, I became fascinated by the movements of reform in Methodism and how it has continued reviving hearts; especially in the United States post Revolution and into the greater Pentecostal movements as great-grandchildren of the revival from the Anglicans. The doctrines seemed clear enough and I read the Book of Discipline 2012, delving into the continuing movement with wide eyes looking forward to contribute to this work of the Spirit stretching back a few hundred years.

Backing up a bit, I was baptized and came to faith in the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination emphasizing the charismatic gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues. I had never experienced the outpouring of these most visible gifts; but rather, in my reading of the Scriptures found other gifts of God in me for the eventual work of ministry. I found it refreshing that there isn’t a hierarchy or a “Queen of the Gifts” in Methodism. I believe this is more in line with the scriptures. I remember leaning into Mercy, Teaching, and Shepherding – all deeply embedded within and tested as a youth ministry volunteer then as a lay minister pre-ordination. I’d also discovered the issues with congregational government in the Pentecostal church, and the harm politics could inflict on a church at the local level. Later I would work at a “mega-church” in New England which had Wesleyan emphasis but also was congregational in government and without a wider connectionalism though with more of a global, theological, and historical lens. I noted the polity was still a bit harsh at times with meetings that could be condescending between “parties” who felt strongly about cultural issues.

When I entered the United Methodist Church, the polity didn’t feel so heavy and I could be Arminian, affirm women as Pastors and leaders, teach and experience robust Trinitarian worship and theology, have episcopal accountability in leadership, be focused on the work of the Holy Spirit in mission to all in a parish, and there were resources to do it across this network – it all was incredible! And as I breathed it all in, I was completely naive to the politics of the greater church as I joined. I started working as a Youth Director and joined the denomination on a literal island. The disconnection was good for the trenches of ministry, but I eventually entered the ordination track towards Elder. That is when the issues of the denomination began to percolate to my attention (especially human sexuality and marriage) and the modern world’s power struggles between liberal and traditional positions. I’d not known until I took my Methodist courses that the denomination had been experiencing battle after battle since the merger of the United Bretheren/Evangelical Association and The Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1960s –my eyes were opening.

This naivete was a great shield as I did ministry in the trenches as a youth minister on that island but as then I began to live stream the General Conferences starting in 2012. My eyes opened wide, and today, I’m an Elder at a 3 point charge. I’m responsible to people who have lived their entire lives as Methodists, some who have recently committed and are doing ministry with us, and some who are testing us out. I hear and feel their questions about what is happening at the larger institution and I pastor in a rural context yet incredibly adept at knowing every detail of what is going on – because they love their churches. The pain of the battles became more real and I have sought to understand so I might pastor well through these storms. I did a lot of research, and now I teach Polity for the District Lay School for love of this frail yet fascinating system that I believe God is still using in so many lives. In my own Methodist Studies courses for ordination, in the midst of the academic and personal study on the organization at the church, district, Annual and General Conference levels, I still believe what is practically built in Methodist Connectionalism is a great ideal for how we might govern ourselves in a way that Wesley intended. This Revival Movement that inspires, equips, then sends ministers for mission and equips the laity to own their common ministry as an outpouring of their baptism. I’m still in awe at the potential and on the ground in our churches I see how much life comes from the Spirit enlivening us. The faith within our people is robust. Then again, there is quite a bit of bloat in the structure, as anything that has been around for a while naturally gets “gamed”. Language gets learned and definitions change slowly over time. Sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. This is too true in our case.

I make my observations as a pastor mostly through my own experience with the ordination process and personal observation of the overall polity. I’ve read every news article I can about the nature of the church’s dilemmas as well as her celebrations and victories. I love data and have a deep seated belief that wisdom is essentially seeing patterns and making good decisions based on them, and that ultimately the Spirit gives us discernment and leads us when we begin to surrender and give God glory rather than glorifying our own system or our history or our own selves. I know, even as an outsider who came into the family, it seems that Connectionalism has broken down. It is a painful and a slow motion tearing of the parts and it is so excruciating to the connection because the relationships are the lifeblood of the Wesleyan – Global – Methodist – Holiness – Revival – movement/s. It is how the family tree helps grace to grow and gives life to its members – through accountability and the very connection that is now being ripped into pieces.

I also believe it will be the connectional strand of catholicity posited within Methodism by John Wesley’s own theology that might eventually be a balm for the pain. Perhaps when some sort of schism occurs, the connection will not be completely severed and the “Oneness” that Christ which calls us to in this emerging Post-Denominational world, will still be possible through our prayers, our presence and our service. We will all still be members of the world-wide body of Christ, though in deep disagreement with one another of how to live in fidelity to the Lord. There may be new ways to work out the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As rural kinfolk might – in households across the street from each other with mutual fields all around their homes. We have lots of family compounds like that in the agricultural areas of South Carolina, and though family members may disagree on many things, the common work and the mission to grow something that brings life remains the same. I do not believe those differences should be minimized or the truths conceded, but merely recognized and presented charitably when needed and when appropriate for differentiation of theological method, Biblical interpretation, and understandings of the nature of our mission have opened chasms that have us looking at one another as enemies rather than siblings in the household of God.

The Church and Our Divide On Scripture

I have slowly realized and watched this dividing and experientially have run into the reality that there really are several factions, but mainly there are two vocal and major tribes warring each other within the family called The United Methodist Church. This is obvious and I barely need to state it. Though I hate the terms, for brevity’s sake, they are called Progressive and Traditional branches of the tree. I’ve struggled with the meanings of these terms, and I recognize that there are people who associate with these camps but because of the depth of connectionalism and common love in the family, many are wary of associating with a “side”. These folks have been called Centrists, though it mainly means that they do not want to break up the family so they try to keep quiet or encourage both sides.

The last General Conference, as I’ve been grafted into this family, I’ve felt the pressure of being from a Residency group with friends on all the different angles on these issues. Having friends on the ends of the issue of sexuality has caused a lot of pain all around. Spiritually, mentally, even physically in some cases. Even as I prayed over General Conference, I saw the behavior of delegates at the microphone and the intentional chaos which was openly spoken by some caucus groups… my body became literally sick. I delved into prayer for this family that has welcomed me but I’m now in the midst of a civil war which I at once was not aware of but now actively have a stake in as a shepherd with a group of people who ask me, “What is going on up there? Do we need to do something?” I’ve done my best to encourage, teach, truth tell, speak from the scriptures, and be pastoral all at the same time.

I’ve had to wrestle with my own responses, and for full transparency, I fall into the “Traditional” understanding. I cannot minimize the importance of seeking to understand the entirety of scripture and I push back on those who say we all only “pick and choose” what portions of scripture we live out or teach. I may not know all things, but the goal is to be so thoroughly immersed in the study and reading of scripture, and then to live it out so fully, that we delve deeper into the life of God. In the wholeness of deep and time intensive hearing and responding, the Spirit transforms us as the text witnesses to the saving power of Jesus Christ – and our own frailty and sinfulness fades in the sanctification process. I do not see any evidence that we should not take the whole revelation of scripture as we grasp at it and apply all the themes and courses within it into the ordering of our spiritual, physical lives, and relationships.

On the issue of marriage from the beginning there is a purpose for sexuality which is to bond a man and a woman together for life-long commitment to one another. The redefinition and opening up this union to same-sex spouses is something from the greater culture and is nowhere in either the Old or New Testament portions of the canon. Scholar after scholar notes how many forms of sexuality were practiced in Egypt, Canaan, Rome, and this same spirit continues today. N.T. Wright, in a recent podcast clearly debunks the conception that our modern ideas of sexuality are completely novel by citing the “Symposium” by Plato, and Roman writings on Juveniles as sources that obviously show the kind of same-sex relationships we are seeing today. We don’t give the ancient people enough credit for dealing with the same issues humanity has always been dealing with. We simply should not drift from the revelation of God simply because we we want people to feel accepted. The truth is, they are accepted by God – salvation is free – but the sanctification process afterward asks all of us to put our conceptions of self including our own sexuality on the altar and to seek God’s plan for each of us called into the Christian community. This may not be what we had originally or conceptually intended in our own imaginations.

The desire to make sexuality primary in our identity (which should rest primarily in the Spirits work within us by Christ) is not new. Monasteries in the ancient church have had to address monks who were attracted to men, and they called those celibate people to reside in their identity in Christ. Of course they were celibate anyway but it has import for us in an incredibly sexualized material world. The Bible has one line of argument of what an ordered marriage is, that those not bonded in it are to be celibate, and that sexuality is not our chaos but part of the Lord’s grand design. Dr. Kevin M. Watson, Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, who in a debate with a former professor of his, Dr. Kendall Soulen, in a civil debate, stated;

“‘Simply put, the Bible is concerned with sexual ethics. Deeply concerned with sexual ethics. The well-known Jerusalem Council, where the early Church agreed to remove as many burdens as they possible could from Gentiles who were coming to faith in Jesus, particularly circumcision, so that as many people could follow Jesus as possible, still emphasized right living when it came to sex. The Jerusalem Council concluded: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.’ (Acts 15:28-29) The consistent concern expressed for sexual ethics in the Old and New Testaments from passages like Acts 15 cannot be cut away from the other passages in the Old and New Testaments that concretize what particular sexual practices Christian are to abstain from.”

Full video of this debate is on youtube here: https://youtu.be/XkNCmsatTlE

The debate was civil, and I enjoyed listening to the two take questions and answers from folks afterwards, both Dr. Watson and Dr. Soulen being very pastoral in all things – it was very Christian in nature – I couldn’t help but notice that Soulen’s positions on becoming more laid back on divorce were grounds for our continual cultural accommodation. Just “one more thing” [not his words, my summary of the ethos]. I don’t believe his framework and the foundation of many modern Christian’s view of Biblical interpretation are taking the revelation of the scriptures serious enough nor do they plunge deep enough into the depths of their context, morals, or teachings. This view doesn’t take into account that our hardness of heart to one another in divorce and the laxity on marriage in our culture is a condemnation of our modern world and should not be a virtuous rule! We should be repenting of the implosion of marriage in our culture because it is a covenant made before God. The evil which spouses have beat upon each other due to our sinfulness need corporate and individual acts of repentance rather simply losing all of our Christian ethics and then redefining what a marriage is.

Dr. Watson, grounded in the scripture, began with a deliberation of the passages in Genesis where man and woman are brought together to become one flesh and states, “the witness of Scripture regarding marriage consistently describes marriage in terms of a union of one man and one woman. And it never describes marriage as between two people of the same sex.” As I’ve delved into the texts, this is always apparent without much study and under scrutiny it holds up, which makes me wonder why the Methodist world is succumbing to the fallacy of losing all Christian teachings simply because they are from antiquity and they’re really hard to live into.

I don’t worship the Bible nor hold it up as an idol between the Lord and His ability to speak but I do hold it as the inspired Word of God. It contains God’s road map and revelation for us to be lead into salvation. It is how we come to know Jesus Christ in a very personal way and then are conditioned to hear His word by the Spirit which we have living within us. I also hold to the scriptures as a standard by which we can judge extraneous revelation, in which our experience and interpretations of the workings of the Spirit within us and without us must be brought into focus by this ruler, the Word of God, and of its plain understandings.

The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Overall, I was encouraged by some movements at General Conference 2019 to affirm the teachings of the church which at a point long ago had been codified in The Book of Discipline -long before I was even born. Recently I watched in shock and awe at our South Carolina Annual Conference 2019, and seeing not one traditional clergy going to General Conference (one to Jurisdictional). I saw how gamed the system was. Local Pastors wondering why they had no say in their denomination, computers with spreadsheets out analyzing coordinated votes, and realizing that the polity had simply moved the messiness of Congregational polity from the local church, to the higher echelons where the same pettiness reigns. It was a somber realization of the pendulum we are on and how our congregations are constantly being gaslighted by obvious political maneuvering. I’ve seen both sides consolidate a power base and retreat into echo chambers. I don’t necessarily condemn having groups for support – we are human and need to support one another. I am guilty myself of having stronger relationships with those I doctrinally align with. But the lack of charity is intense right now, and I really wish the power brokers would lay down their power, repent, and allow the streams of Methodism to be free to go their own way. Build a new connectionalism in a Global sense but lets let go of the vicious bear hug.

Personally, I feel strongly that there is a right interpretation of scripture, and I strive to grapple with that through the Spirit and in the accountability of community. I also desire that our denomination would continue to acknowledge the teachings of the church through the ages which are in line with the witness of scripture and connected to apostolic witness. My heart is still hurting and I feel the brokenness of the denomination even though I wasn’t born into it. I think the Holy Spirit as a person is bringing these pains to the fore in all of us because folks on the ground level are feeling all the stages of grief as we mourn what was and in a clumsy way, envison what might be – even though most like myself do not have the power to really guide us to a new horizon. We can simply keep following Jesus Christ and remain humble as we minister to those we are entrusted to do ministry among.

While I feel a separation is coming, I hope that those with power will be gracious with each other, speak kindly to one another, and stop the shame game and marketing that comes with this kind of warfare language. This is a major disagreement, but we are not enemies. This is not the way John Wesley would have us walk and talk. I’m new to this, but seriously, if I was making a call I’d say, “let’s make a decision and find a way to live with it.” That’s called leadership, and the world needs to see leaders stick their necks out and say what they’re thinking whether they lose their jobs and their pension or not. Actually, that’s why this mess has gotten so large. Some folks who think very differently than I do decided to lead. Unfortunately they’ll find a stand still until a real conversation about our differences and chasm of how theology is done is clearly on the table and because of the hardness of our hearts -a mutual separation is negotiated under truce. We need more transparency, more humility, more thinking and listening and less warfare on the grounds of the Holy Conferences. I’m praying for The United Methodist Church and I will keep my vows. Whatever happens we will all make our decisions. Let’s not manipulate ourselves into a dystopian future.

I think institutions as large organisms can be saved but the heart needs to be malleable. If a division occurs, may we send each other in peace. It seems the problems of Congregational Polity have found their way to General Conference. The system like any is gamed over time. I preached recently on King David’s census and the plague that ensued. It seems like we want the same sense of control David wanted and I fear that there is a path to failure if we fight over control, resources, and power. I’m still an outsider mainly because I’m still learning this whole system. I still know where I stand, which is in line with the Book of Discipline as it is today. My hope is that we continue to uphold the teachings of Christianity and find a way despite the current culture. I know that one “side” eventually will be discouraged enough to leave if the table doesn’t have good actors looking each other in the eye. It doesn’t have to be this way. If amicable division costs money, it is what it is. I saw a figure for an Annual Conference that it would cost $18 million dollars to deal with pension liabilities and then the line was “That’s impossible.” Are you kidding me. I know we are frugal, but if something needs to happen you make it happen. Are we fighting over treasure or releasing each other for fruitfulness in ministry? There is a way. It seems to me that we’ve just stopped talking to each other and are now trying to destroy the reputation of the opponent in order to take all the marbles. That’s not Wesleyan, it is certainly not Christian, and that’s not the way of the Spirit. I’m here to see what happens and I’m praying for wisdom in the years to come. But in the meantime – back to ministry! The trenches in this world need workers to preach and spread scriptural holiness. May I be faithful, and may the Lord bless our work. May we all be humble servants who wash each other’s feet and look at Christ and kneel. God is with us and always will be. May we be with the Lord. Amen.

A Pastoral Letter to North Charleston United Methodist Church

The Cross on North Charleston United Methodist’s Steeple

Some of our congregation may have noticed that our church was mentioned in a newspaper article intended to be about the current trend of clergy members facing burnout and leaving the ministry. At first I was a bit mad because it didn’t portray our church in the light I have seen for the last nine months. I keep thinking to myself: “a page has turned and we are looking at a new chapter.” I think this may be a Holy Spirit given mantra reminding me that wherever we have been, we are no longer there. The present is here and we are thrusting into the future to face new challenges and experience new joys while working hard to participate in the Kingdom of God.

From my own experience, I’ve seen a church mobilizing to love everyone they meet and doing this task well. I see the mission of the church as it rebuilds and expands quickly (after almost two years of being held back by a pandemic that was beyond our control). I see people coming together to worship Jesus Christ and thank the Lord for bringing us through such a terrible time. I’ve also joined the Care Team and our new Missions and Outreach Committee as they dream big and see new ways to let people see God’s love in action.

In John’s first letter to the church he reminded us, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1 John 3:18)

I believe we are living this admonition, and we will continue to activate into this call on our lives. Wherever we have been, regardless of the hardships or the trials, the Lord has an incredible forward motion and we can jump forward in His incredible will for us all.

Holy Week is now upon us and we are reminded that before his Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus was reviled, misunderstood, and ultimately suffered willingly so that we might be redeemed from evil and sin. As our exemplar and model of perfect love we look at the cross and take up the burdens which inevitably come upon us in the journey of discipleship. If Christ was misunderstood and suffered, we also will experience similar times. The good news, however, is that we are people that do not fear death.

To the Corinthians Paul wrote: “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.” (1 Corinthians 4:10-13)

I know that doesn’t sound like much fun, but being in a trial with Jesus is better than hav- ing all the riches and fame in the whole world without his mercy, peace, and love. I pray we continue to be people of resurrection and bear witness to the greatness of our Lord, and in that, we will be the most beautiful and blessed church we can be. Thanks be to God!

Pastor Dan

Your Politics Are Religious Whether You Realize It Or Not

The American Commons Posted on May 8, 2021

As a pastor in rural America, I encounter the phrase “I’m spiritual but not religious” quite often, mostly when folks are feeling guilty that they are not participating in some sort of religious community like a church, synagogue, or mosque. It is a troubling phrase because it denies that humans by nature are very religious, regardless of whether they attend or participate in a community’s organized religious services. 

For example, one could argue easily that the television is an altar in every home where community values and “truths” are communicated and affirmed. Cars are meditative chambers where we utilize bluetooth hands free devices to connect to one another as an “ekklesia” via technology. The internet creates a virtual space where our highest values are enforced through social media sites like Facebook, Tik-Tok, Twitter, and other companies we give our data to with blind trust of neophytes like any religion. 

We are human beings endowed with consciousness and spirituality, and thus religion comes with the territory. We ask ultimate questions about who we are and why we exist. Being human is often an incredibly mysterious journey with questions and revelations that scientists admit do not have satisfactory knowledge including what composes the non-material nature of the human mind, the interconnectedness of conscious thought, and how incredibly advanced systems compose our physical bodies; also how we understand and connect to a greater reality including our immediate communities and our environment. Philosophers wrestle with our comprehension of reality by postulating that we may be in a cosmic virtual reality. Are we in a video game played by some omnipotent being? How can we explain the presence of love and compassion, empathy and the workings of emotional bonds that are all too contrary to our rational ideals to be useful in a “dog eat dog” survival of the fittest world? The presence of all this may give us pause to consider the great questions: How did I get here? What is my place in the universe? 

However we come at it, these questions are spiritual in nature and draw out our grasping at transcendence beyond the ordinary. When one acts in response to these reflections, as is the nature of being human, we become religious. It is impossible to divorce one from the other. Humanity is inherently spiritual and also religious. 

In the United States, we have come to love walls, and we have constructed a psychological barrier between the world of religion and the world of politics. Not that one cannot be both, but it is civilly off bounds to bring both to bear in any one sphere, probably because one’s political views have become a religion in themselves. Nature loves to fill a vacuum. This puts ministers and people of faith in quite a bind when the universal claims of their faith seek to transform injustices in the world like racism, inequality, inequity, gendered violence, abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. 

“If everyone is religious in some way, and all people have a part in creating the political environment, there needs to be some way for us to re-evaluate the all-powerful unspoken rules that bind our peoples and collective conscience together. The answer lies in seeking solidarity.”

These are problems that societies from every age have had to muster up moral arguments for in order to make difficult decisions. These decisions affect great swaths of populations and determine in many cases who lives and who dies. A spiritual and religious person would have to form their decision based not simply on intuition or in brute rationalism but also take into account the revelation (such as the Bible, Torah or Quran and scholarly or saintly exegesis of one’s particular faith). The current interpretation of “Separation of Church and State” and the currents that punish those who seek to tear down the wall to have political opinions that affirm life in all its stages and facets reveals that we are not really a pluralistic nation with respect for all views equally, but rather we have an established and growing American civil religion that displaces all other religions in political discourse. How does the person of faith deal with the push back one receives when revealing the traditions and revelation informing their decisions?

The Donald Trump led era of the civil religion took on the conservative values like valuing sacrifice in the lives of our soldiers, but then gave sanction to militant aggression against anyone who critiqued the American war machine and the excesses of our weaponized dominance in the world. The gatekeepers revere the flag of our nation and seethed in anger when a football player took a knee revealing that the stadiums are modern temples to what we value. Strength and the perception of honor meant we uphold a liturgy of standing, placing our hands over our hearts, and participating with the people in the rituals we are supposed to know and never transgress. “We the people,” in the Trumpian vision, are the people who enforce these traditional American rites of passage; all others are demonized and told to leave. 

Then the religion turned over a bit when Joseph Biden became President and was inaugurated with a new political priesthood unveiling the symbols and practices: beautiful poetry, colorful outfits, and a return to pageantry leading a celebration marking the values of the liberal elites. Even a meme of Bernie Sanders spread virally on social media in a humorous sigh of relief. 

The civil religion now seems more relaxed, but the values of the political faith have definitely changed. The removal of the Hyde Amendment from COVID-19 rescue legislation signified that some lives will no longer have protection. Gender identification by the government changes based on non-traditional views on human biology. Our beliefs lead to practices in the life of the individual and to policy in the life of our associations, including the federal government. 

“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system,” wrote Dorothy Day, the Catholic radical who advocated against inequality and institutional corruption. “We all have learned the long loneliness and the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” 

If everyone is spiritual, and everyone is religious in some way, and all people have a part in creating the political environment, there needs to be some way for us to clear the air and begin to re-evaluate the all-powerful unspoken rules that bind our peoples and collective conscience together. I guarantee it is not by holding rallies and ridiculing those who are perceived as threats nor sending angry mobs toward those we disagree with hoping to scare them into submission. The answer lies in seeking solidarity.

Solidarity is not a benign “Kumbaya” word that makes people feel good but does no earthly good. No, solidarity is grown from the shared needs and interests of the various groups of people in complex societies. In our romantic notions of the past, we understand it as the farmer providing food for the laborers who produce goods and services who make educated careers possible and allow portions of people to become public servants in governments and defense. Every person links together in a chain whether someone is a violin maker, a violinist or the provider of wood. All the chains matter and we find the links and cultivate a sense of interconnectedness. Returning to our earlier conversation, all peoples have religious behaviors and participate through institutions and interact in innumerable ways, but we are alike in seeking the answer to cosmological questions. On that ground we might also find solidarity rather than battles and broken hearts. Dorothy Day, the Catholic radical who advocated against inequality and institutional corruption, said, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” She said, “We all have learned the long loneliness and the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” 

With a world heading towards 8 billion people and our own nation growing largely from the hopes and dreams of new waves of immigrant and refugee families, we need to recommit to what binds us all and make a new contract with one another based in love and loving others as we love ourselves. This is where the solidarists can change the world and centrist voices can actively engage people of all backgrounds to remake the American religious and political landscape. We can tear down this wall that forces entire traditions to be silent or to explode in anger and we can learn to listen and act for one another with humility. As a Christian, this is the world I would like to cultivate. I hope I see the fruit of this in my lifetime but I’m glad to invest in this enterprise for my son and daughter and their children as well. The current crisis in culture is an opportunity to be all of the above: spiritual, religious, political, and free.

*

By Daniel Griswold

Why I Support Women In Ordained Ministry Biblically

I’ve been asked why I support the Biblical case that women should be ordained into the ministry, I realize that this is something that is hard to consider when the tradition we have grown from doesn’t accept this case. At one time I wondered but I don’t after much study into the scriptures (including the few parts that seem at first to exclude women from teaching men) which is the ruler to teach us what God would like us to do in all things concerning salvation.

A few points:

(1) Deborah was not a fluke in the Old Testament. I have read her portion I’m Judges several times. The scriptures say she was a prophetess (given her authority by God) and she judged Israel. She had her own Palm to govern from, and the people would come to her. As I read this, it seems like she is a template for Samuel’s ministry in that he then was also a Priest (Prophet Priest and Judge) who would listen to God and give pronouncements. Her story is reachable because there is no irony about her leadership. When it comes to leading up the Military, she searches for a man to lead, and when the man chosen doesn’t lead, she appoints him anyway – and they battle for God’s people. As a template, she shows us that those who are gifted, even in a male oriented leadership society, should lead when God prods them.

(2) The women who see Jesus first as Resurrected Lord, are the women who followed him. NT Wright emphasizes this rightly, because as witnesses in that era, it would make more sense for Christ to be revealed to the male Disciples. NT Wright in a Podcast also mentions Mary and Martha when they served Jesus in their home. Mary sits at the learning position at Jesus’ feet, which disturbed Martha who was preparing the hospitality. Mary was being prepared by listening to do ministry and it was showing how Jesus was revealing God’s will for both man and woman as image bearers who ought to serve according to their gifting.

(3) There are so many women leaders in the New Testament who lead House Churches, were deacons (servant leaders), and who lead missionary charges and supported the growth of the church through the businesses they ran. One that really grips me is Junia, who was greeted with two other men as among the “apostles”. Apostles main function is to go to new areas and teach what Jesus had passed to the church. There were efforts in later documents to write “Junius” rather than Junia, but a good study shows that the name Junia was common among women at the time and there aren’t records of Junius as a used male name. Junia was an apostle (There was The Apostles, then there were 500 who became apostles, then the church grew that role into a sort of position, which is likely what Paul is talking about). Looking at Lydia, Pheobe, Junia and Mary and others who must have grasped Paul’s teaching that in the New Creation there is no “Man and Woman” concerning the Kingdom to come. Not to gloss over gender differences of physicality, but those objections don’t come into play with the mind and the passion which is given by the Lord.

I could go on, and I’ll say that this conversation and the questions I’ve received predated the controversy w John MacArthur and Beth Moore. I’ve had to look into my predispositions and make sure that the Bible really did speak and affirm women in ministry, and I believe and affirm the ministry of our sisters in Christ.

For your further reading, here are some Evangelical Scholar’s thoughts on the topic which may be interesting.

Prominent Biblical Scholars on Women in Ministry

Note: I will delete any comments that are not thought through or are inflammatory. I’m not looking for a flame war, but glad to civilly discuss. Thanks for your consideration and discernment.

A Great Speech: “Men Have Forgotten God” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder. Material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.

Father’s Day: Sparring with the Spirits

DemoniacOn Father’s Day I was challenged and honored to preach on Jesus’ encounter with the Demoniac.  A man oppressed by a legion of evil spirits.  Jesus came off a boat into the area of the Geresenes, and immediately the encounter brought new life to the man.  The power of our Heavenly Father, God Almighty was made manifest through Jesus Christ.  In this sermon, I explore what that means for us today.

Click to Hear Rev. Griswold’s Sermon: “Sparring with Spirits”

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-19

The Gerasene Demoniac

They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he *said, “[a]What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he *said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding [b]nearby on the mountain. 12 The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.

14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They *came to Jesus and *observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might [c]accompany Him.19 And He did not let him, but He *said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them [d]what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Awesome Easter and the Resurrection

Easter Watercolor

If you’re like me, you’re physically tired after Easter.  The lenten journey can be a bit overwhelming and exhausting, but also spiritually invigorating.  This has been my first year being the pastor of three wonderful churches, and so this has been the first year I’ve been personally responsible for the season of Lent and all the worship experiences that point us to Jesus Christ.

We began as many churches do with Shrove Tuesday and we enjoyed fellowship and pancakes made by the Men’s Club at Trinity in Givhans.  We began with smiles, full stomachs, and a desire to be close to one another.

Next we journeyed to Ash Wednesday, and we remembered our mortality and our need for repentance.  The ashes were imparted and we began to evaluate our lives and began to ask ourselves, “What acts will prepare me for this season, and how can I walk more closely in the footsteps of Jesus.”  It was powerful, and we left with the heaviness of our sin but the expectation in our need for forgiveness and a new orientation.

Then our Sunday night Lenten Services began and we began to worship together ecumenically with many sister churches in our area.  We joined with various cultures and learned new ways to experience the Word of God.  I grew as a preacher as I sensed the Holy Spirit moving in the congregations and the ministers who presented as God lead them.  The songs, especially “Are Ye Able,” are still running through my heart and mind.  We experienced 6 Sunday nights on the journey together.

In the midst of the season, our charge held a “Healing and Wholeness” service, and we anointed those seeking healing for themselves and others, with oil as the scriptures call us to.  We placed hands on one another’s shoulders and tears and hugs brought us together as we lifted our pain and suffering before our Lord, who also experienced great suffering for us.

The “Revival” Bible Study also met on Thursdays (and one Friday), as we examined “Faith as John Wesley lived it,” giving special attention to what can happen when hearts are “strangely warmed” and people ignite and serve God with all that they have.  We learned that we don’t need to be perfect to be useful in service to Jesus Christ.  We really just need to be willing to place our whole being into His hands and seek what He’s calling us to do for the Kingdom.  We sang together, spent time with the three churches in community, and we felt the Lord calling us to new “Hard” things to do in His name.  We began to feel the revival that Wesley ignited so long ago.

Then came Holy Week, and we celebrated the joyful moments before the storm, when Christ entered Jerusalem and the crowd cried out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  We marched onward to Good Friday, when Christ, having had the Last Supper with his disciples, was then betrayed and placed before the Sanhedrin and Pilate – to be put before the crowd and then sentenced to death.  We walked the Stations of the Cross together, and experienced a deep connection with our suffering servant, who went before the powers of our world and evil itself and did not back down.  From the Garden to the Cross, we felt Jesus’ pain and suffering which was taken upon himself to show his love for all people and his dedication to our salvation.

In a small reprieve from darkness, we experienced an Easter Egg hunt for the children at the campground, and the rains stopped just long enough for us to send the children out to cover themselves in mud and to jump in puddles to receive delight and plenty of sugar filled colored eggs.  Families came together, and we enjoyed some sweet fellowship huddled away from the rains that came and went.

Then, Easter morning came and we experienced a wonderful Sunrise service together.  We sang, “Were You There” and began to consider what Resurrection means for our own lives. At each service, we began to realize more and more that Christ is Risen!  And we cried, “He is Risen, indeed!”  Families and friends came together and the rains stayed away just long enough for us to take pictures together.

The Easter Season continues this Sunday, and truly, I am personally thankful to all of our churches and our congregations who have given so much to make this season one of true discipleship and a deep walk with Jesus.  This Sunday, we come back together for Communion, and we will consider Life after the Resurrection in the Spirit which Jesus promised to us for the mission that would follow.  I’m personally excited about what God is about to do with us and through us, and I ask each person to search deeply within themselves, and ask the big question, “Where is God in all this?”  He’s there, do not fear, and prepare yourself for big things.  God is laying a foundation for some mighty and wonderful works.  Let’s get ready!

-Dan

“The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Meeting the Need – Health Kits and Love Offerings

Health Kits UMC IMG_6947

After the rains came, and everything started to settle, it became pretty clear that things were going to be alright in much of Ridgeville, Givhans and the Lebanon Communities, but there are many places still dealing with water slowly leaving the state.  Churches and homes still getting rid of water, assessing damage, and beginning the slow process of putting life back together.

Yesterday I drove through Columbia, and it is clear with the bridges still out, and the road closures (and the water systems just coming back into full operation) that this has and will be a longer road than usual.  I’d like to say a few thanks to some of the amazing people I’ve seen helping.

(1) I’d like to thank the South Carolina UMC Conference, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, and the Emergency Relief Teams already engaged and working across the state.  We’re blessed to have so many people from so many places putting brotherly/sisterly love into action.  (By the way there is a training tomorrow if you’d like to join those teams).  Also, thanks to the Conference and our Bishop for immediately posting information on how to get things done.

(2) I’d like to thank the churches of the Ridgeville Charge.  We’ve already made up 60 Health Kits, which were brought to the Conference Office yesterday.  (See pictures above).  I talked with the ladies there, and they said that they are shipping them out to communities fast, and these health kits are in great need.  We should continue to send them if we can, and I’ll make sure that somehow they keep getting to the Conference Office as fast as possible (drop off in the Vestibule’s of any of our Ridgeville Charge Churches.  Also – thank you for already giving so much to the Canaan UMC church on Route 61.  There are ERT teams working there, and they are worshipping at their sister church Sand Hill UMC until the church is ready to use again.  Continue to be in prayers for them, and maybe check in with anyone you know in that area and see if anyone needs anything specific.  We’ll be giving their emergency fund a love offering after this Sunday.  Make sure to invite folks back out to church for worship, and to maximize how much we can send in aid.  I’ve seen SC people coming together in the name of God, and my hope and prayer is that this will continue.  God is good!

(3) To those areas outside the affected zone, and those places out of state who have come to help and have sent bottled water.  Thank you for your prayers and generosity.  God is doing amazing things here, and I believe by prayer you are doing the best thing possible.  God is giving us all we need, and the people of SC are strong.  Pray for those without homes, send funds if you can to relief organizations (see my previous blog for more information about giving and making health kits), and keep telling us you’re thinking about us as the work continues in our hardest hit areas.

My favorite scripture verse is: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for theLord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

We have seen His mighty power, we have seen Him work through the love of so many, and our faith is putting our hands to work for our neighbors!  Blessed be the name of the Lord our God!