Rev. Schaefer, a pastor in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference officiated at the same-sex wedding of his son five years ago. A complaint was filed one month before the statute of limitations ran out, and word of the trial became public Sept. 20. Schaefer, pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., said he “followed his heart” when his son, Tim, asked him to officiate at his wedding. Schafer pleaded not guilty to the two charges against him. (UMCConnections.org newfeed)

Tonight, November 19, we receive news that after being found guilty of disobedience to the Book of Discipline Rev. Schaefer received his penalty. He is suspended from his ministry for 30 days after which time he can either promise to never conduct a marriage celebration for a same-sex couple or turn in his ministry orders. It is not to compare Rev. Shaefer to Galileo that I would observe that the same offer of recanting beliefs was offered, but rather to notice that the church acted as bully in both settings.

The process of criminalizing a ministry practice of inclusive hospitality and the institutional processing of the minister as “perp” are unbecoming and inappropriate in every way to the case at hand. Not only should we blanch at the charges and the outcome, but also be embarrassed by the process the church has utilized for its resolution.

As you may know, and can certainly tell by this writing so far, I stand with Rev. Frank Shaefer and with Bishop Talbert and with any else who would act justly and compassionately as they have. The trouble for the United Methodist Church, however, is that we haven’t determined where it is we can stand. Nothing would make the legalists of our connection happier than if we all stood together, so long as it was outside of the club house they now control. If we are to stand together in a meaningful way that witnesses fully to our solidarity and resolve, shouldn’t it be “somewhere”? Why shall we who embrace full inclusion be the ones to step away? And, remember, this is just one of a number of justice issues in which, we are led to believe, we are out of step with the great traditions of the Methodist connection.

The truer fact is that the majority (so-called) of the United Methodist Connection who run the show are driving us into the ditch. Claiming that they represent the truer view of the church doesn’t hold water. Actually, our tradition would rightly call us to the side of Rev. Schaefer and others. The witness of justice, reconciliation, healing and mercy is the true core of the Methodist ethos. The use of the Book of Discipline to tailor the church to a reactionary and bigoted form continues to crush our credibility as we crow, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors!” Seriously?

So, where shall we stand? We can not give the ground of our witness for the people no one else seems to want to relate to. That IS the call of Jesus Christ that he read (to us) from the job description on that scroll of the prophet Isaiah. To receive the anointing of God’s own Spirit, so that we are filled and able to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captive, and recovery of sight to the blind, and (wait for it) to let the oppressed go free! But above all, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor; a time not of institutional order and dogma, but a time of Shalom, wholeness, equity, sustainability, and peace. (Luke 4:18)

What we have here is two different, possibly irreconcilable, views of the church. One is that above all else we are to preserve order, to correct and discipline vile sinners to come to faith maybe in Jesus but most certainly in the Church itself. The second is deeply concerned with making sure that our walk matches our talk, seeing the Christ in everyone, eager to act as if God’s Kin-dom actually came as Jesus said it did. We need to decide which Church are we.

I served in the Catskills of New York at the outset of my ministry. One night, I attended a contentious dinner with the local Roman Catholic priest, and the Free Methodist preacher in town and myself. The Free Methodist was very free with his criticism of our stance about human sexuality. After the good reverend liberally condemned us both to certain perdition on the day we’d have to explain ourselves to Almighty God, Fr. La Chapelle spoke. He said, “Friend, do you believe in a God of judgment or a God of grace?” At last the Free Methodist (such an ironic denominational name) was speechless and looked puzzled. Hector continued, “Well, as for me, I’m counting on a God of grace.”

I think the time is now. We can own fully the God of mercy and the message of grace; it isn’t the copyrighted material of the Book of Discipline. We can and should declare out loud that we have be anointed, we are not disobedient. We can and should firmly state that we are righteously indignant anytime our beloved denomination is hypocritical. We probably should also let folks know that we mean to stand firm for a church that is not an embarrassment of reactionary, thinly veiled conservative politics masquerading as theological foundations. Friends of the Reconciling Movement and friends of justice everywhere, we are ever as much the true church of the Wesleyan tradition from which we prayerfully and with integrity discern our ministries using Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. We are not the outliers, we are in fact faithful by our incarnation of the body of Christ. Which church will we be? I‘m sticking with the one that has that Grace thing going. How about you?

Rev. Michael Love
Palo Alto, CA
November 19, 2013

I’m looking forward to joining other Cal/Nev clergy and laity at the School of Congregational Development, which begins tomorrow in Denver. Here’s a blurb from the event website that’s pretty descriptive…

The School of Congregational Development has built a reputation in United Methodist circles as the premier event for equipping clergy and laity to lead vital, dynamic, life-changing congregations. This year’s focus on “Encountering God at the Edge” reflects both our growing edges of ministry and our challenging U.S. mission environment. Being in the West will enable participants to encounter “out-on-the-edge” Christians sharing a life-transforming relationship with Christ in inspiring ways that embody the reign of God here on earth.

Hosted by the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church

(And The Top Ten Questions About Pastor Michael’s New Appointment)

I am very excited about my new appointment. On July 1 I will continue to serve God in the midst of First Church. And, I will begin to do the same in the midst of Trinity Mountain View UMC. I know God’s love is in both of these congregations and that encourages me. I will divide my time as well as I can at a rate of 70 percent at First Church and 30 percent at Trinity. I’ll bet most weeks it won’t be an exact divide, but should average to this over the long haul.

This is different from re-appointment for another year or appointment to a new assignment. Both of those are the changes we are more used to, if it’s possible to say that we ever get used to them. But we are itinerant ministers in the United Methodist tradition—Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says, “traveling from place to place, esp. on a circuit, as a minister or judge”—and we who enter the vocation understand up front what the calling means. But this new appointment is neither and both of those. I am staying and I give thanks to God that I am sent by the Bishop and cabinet to continue with you. And, I am also going and I similarly give thanks that I am sent to serve God with United Methodists in a place where I may be helpful. And so I am very excited and a little nervous. I know you are, too.

Questions abound. When will I preach where? Will our Sunday night classes continue? What will happen on Sunday mornings? How will Wednesday Wesleyans work? How can I possibly add another church to my schedule? If you are asking yourself these questions then we are in close company, because I am, too.

I’ve been praying about this. And I’ve conversed with Pastor Sadie about this. And I’m in coffee chats with church staff and leadership. And now, I need your guidance as well. I would love to hear from you about a couple of topics that I’ll share below. You will probably be able to spot them in the “Top Ten” list. (Hint: Look particularly at numbers 6 and 5.) But, first let me say that I’d love to hear from you about just about anything that concerns you in our time of transition. I hope you’ll let me know so that we can navigate together.

And now those Top Ten Questions About Pastor Michael’s New Appointment.

10)  Will Pastor Michael preach on Sunday? (Yes, at about the same frequency as I currently am. Thanks to Pastor Sadie’s willingness to preach regularly, we share the schedule about 50/50. That will continue. The only difference you will notice is that when Pastor Sadie is preaching, I will not be there as Liturgist. There’s an opportunity to serve the church in this; see number 5, below)

9)  Will Sunday night classes continue? (Yes, also at about the same frequency as currently. We have had several per year with seasonal breaks. We’ve looked at topical issues as well as studied together in Lent and Advent. I look forward to growth in this area for our church and we would be helped by the emergence of additional teacher/facilitators.)

8)  Will the sermons be on, or off, the Revised Common Lectionary Readings. (Yes. Pastor Sadie and I will continue to plan for sermon series from time to time on topics that we think might be interesting to the congregation. We’ve received good feedback for those series as well as for the times we’ve “preached the lectionary,” so we’ll continue to do both.)

7)  Will Pastor Michael ever be able to preach like Pastor Sadie? (Alas, probably not. And I am delighted by the addition of Pastor Sadie’s vision and engaging presentation that continues to bless our worship time.)

6)   What will happen on Sunday morning? (In other words, will we find an opportunity to revisit our Sunday service schedule? And see if we can make our Sunday morning a bit less hectic? And improve everyone’s experience in every worship service and Sunday School class? And lighten the pastor’s load on the days when he might need to be at both churches at some point on Sunday? I say, why not? Any thoughts you have about improvements to Sunday’s schedule that might help in these way would be appreciated.)

5)  How can we help the pastoral staff during this time of transition? (In many ways. Continue your faithful and friendly prayers for us, we are lifted up by them. Step up in leadership, find a way to serve in the congregation—there’s a lot to do besides all the meetings! For example, a really great and fun way to help now would be to help us expand the number of lay people who serve in the worship services and the number of volunteers who teach or assist in Sunday School. These two areas alone will be invaluable in the immediate future. If you prefer a short-term commit; volunteer for VBS this August.

4)  How about that great small group meeting at Channing House? Will it continue? (We call ourselves the Wednesday Wesleyans and yes, we’re continuing. In fact the idea is so popular that we’re exploring a similar group at Lytton Gardens. Stay tuned!)

3)  Why does Pastor Michael wear that collar/yoke/white thingie on Sunday? (Well, I sometimes do and sometimes don’t. But, often when I do it’s because I am going to be in worship or conversation with the Fijian members of First Church. In the Fijian church life, the more formal garb identifying the Talatala is a mark of the office of the Pastor. I’ve also worn my collar from time to time to visit in the hospital or to attend a public meeting where I can then be quickly identified as a clergy person.)

2)  Is Pastor Michael leaving? (No, I am not. I love you all very much and serving God in this place is a tremendous honor. I am entering my 5th year as a part of your pastoral team and I think I’m finally getting to have some sense about who we are and where I am. So, I’d rather stay, if it’s okay with God and the Bishop and everybody, so that I can put this orienteering to work. I look forward especially to the sacred work that I believe is ahead for both First Church and the people of Trinity Mountain View UMC.

And now, the Number One Question About Pastor Michael’s New Appointment

1) How can Pastor Michael do everything!!!??? (Well, I can’t. Thanks to conversations with SPRC, I am focusing my efforts on Worship, Pastoral Care and the Missional Life of the church. I will rely on the good work of staff and laity for much of the administration of the church. I am “downsizing” most of my Conference duties so I can concentrate on the local churches I am charged to tend. I am adapting and growing as I go. You have all contributed your love and support. I have great love for you all and have learned a lot about you as well as myself. Thank you for our shared ministry. Thank you for your grace and a hand offered to help me up when I have stumbled. Thank for your continued love of the people who seek out First Church as a haven from the storm. And, thank you for your commitment to the ministry of compassion and justice beyond the walls of the church.

Remember, the Gospel in ten words or less is: “You have been set free. Now go tell the others.”

May we continue to learn and discover together the great love that God has for all God’s children.

By the grace and peace of God, I am a servant of Christ,

Pastor Michael Love
Memorial Day, May 27, 2013

Clergy get to go to some really cool events. Just a couple examples of the really cool events we get to attend are called Seminary and Continuing Education (aka Conferences, Workshops, Retreats, and so on). At these events we gather with other clergy-types who, like us, really love Jesus and the people we are shepherding in their journey of faith. We get to network and learn about things that are really working to build God’s reign of Shalom. We are generally encouraged to try those things. We also hear about stuff that’s clearly not working. Maybe something that used to work, but isn’t anymore. But, sometimes we find out about something that never really worked at all but everyone was kind of keeping quiet about. These things we are generally told to stop doing right away.

I suppose at this point it’s only fair to think about what I mean when I say something is working (or not). In the context of the United Methodist Church working means that we are moving toward fulfilling the mission of the church; Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. You may prefer the more compact, although almost certainly unpronounceable, acronym MDOJCFTTOTW. This mission has two significant parts (possibly four, but I am not going to that level detail here). The first is MDOJC. Sorry, Making disciples of Jesus Christ. This means simply that if you are in connection with First Church we will assume, in a very good-natured way, that you are curious about God, the Universe, and all the Big Questions. For United Methodists, Jesus summed things up pretty completely, so he is our lens. It is through this lens that we try to help people get at God, the Universe, and all the Big Questions. Now, I should be clear, you don’t have to be a disciple. All are truly welcome to search and seek. But, we are United Methodists and we are really most qualified to help you get from where you are to where you are trying to go by our witness to the one, Jesus of Nazareth, who taught us. As disciples we are really quite certain that Jesus really embodies best of all the outreaching love of God that changes lives and creates new possibilities through grace. So, MDOJC!

Alright. Then there’s FTTOTW. For the transformation of the world. We also assume, in a good-natured way, that your curiosity about God, the Universe, and the Big Questions is accompanied by a nagging sense that we (humankind) could do a better job of it (being humans, that is). We can confess, safely and without guile, that all signs indicate we need help if we are ever to really do a better job of it. Within our weakness lies a strength of conscience that causes us to yearn as one for peace, justice, safety, health, fairness, and all the things the Bible identifies as signs of the Shalom of God—a holistic, equitable, sustainable community.

Idealistic? Absolutely! But, so is democracy, art, baseball and even science. All the really good stuff is based on raising the bar to the Ideal instead of lowering it to the level of the Barely Endurable. The reason I believe this is that in Genesis—the story of humankind coming of age spiritually—God did not look at the natural world and say, This is Barely Endurable. God looks upon the animals, plants, the mountains, stars and moon, and galaxies, and even people and says with certainty, This is Good.

Taking God’s perspective with some seriousness, we want to do all that we can to move our families, community, nation and world closer to the Ideal of God’s vision; a vision of Shalom. A vision of a world that can be good. Thus, FTTOTW.

This then constitutes the guidelines for knowing when things “work” in the life of the church. Are disciples being made? In other words are people being welcomed, spiritually formed, and equipped for the call God has upon their lives? And, is the world better for it? In other words and simply, are disciples being sent into the world to shape and transform it?

Those are the only two questions we lucky clergy get to focus on when we go to the many cool events we experience. I think it must be that the long tradition of the church has found that these are the only two questions needed to frame all the other questions we encounter in life. We may think that there are a myriad of aspects, angles, and topics. But it really comes down to two. The only questions the church has ever been qualified to address; are we making disciples? And, are we changing the world? I believe with all my heart that when we do these two things we will find that we have done everything we need to do.

Shalom, Pastor Michael

I have been watching the progress of the Boy Scouts of America as they seem to be moving toward a posture of inclusion and hospitality. If you have been following this story, too, you’ll know that on February 3, BSA officials met to consider lifting the ban on gay Scouts. This would be a turn-about from a July 2012 announcement that the BSA would continue their ban on homosexual Scouts and leaders. I am a Scouting dad, a Den Leader and Cubmaster of a local Pack in our Pacific Skyline Council, Stanford District. As a church we sponsor a Cub Scout Pack and a Boy Scout Troop. This news gave me hope.

Then came a couple of bumps in the road. The Boy Scouts received a lot of mail when word got out about this possibility. So they decided to wait until May and weigh the feedback. Feedback from polls, however, shows the public to be changing in favor of inclusiveness. A national poll released on February 6 found a solid majority of registered voters, 55 percent to 33 percent, favored ending the ban. More conservative Christian denominations, who sponsor a large number of Scout units are on the other side of the issue.

And then the United Methodist Men stepped up to the microphone and my heart sank. What came from our tribe’s Men’s organization was a bureaucratic and timid response urging that we should play it safe as a denomination and not challenge the BSA to be the best that they can be in their long tradition of raising up young boys and men for leadership.

As the pastor of a Reconciling Congregation, I feel it is my call to respond and make a few remarks. I am of one accord with Rev. Andy Oliver, an elder from the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. Once again, he observes, the people of God are in error as we drag our feet and ask for “more time” to consider ministries of justice and equity. His litany of our reluctance to speak prophetically begins with the Pharaoh’s plea for more time to Moses; reminds us of our failure to witness against slavery; confronts us with our inability to yield power and the vote to women “too soon;” convicts us of our foot-dragging when called to integrate our worship life; embarrasses me when remembering the halting response of the church to giving women full and equal leadership roles in the United Methodist church and pulpit; and brings it to our current state of affairs with our 40 years of waiting in the arena of including all people in the life of the church.

Rev. Oliver ends with these words, “The chorus of the privileged majority gets sung again and again, “we need more time,” and the latest group to join the refrain is the United Methodist Men. More time means more boys subject to bullying and exclusion. More time means higher rates of suicides among gay adolescents. But perhaps the most crucial reason we don’t have “more time” is because we need to stand up and be United Methodist Men. We are not a church that has any more time for injustice.”

It would be easy to aim our protests solely at Scouting, but I think God’s finger may be pointed at us. Let’s change ourselves as we seek to change others. Let’s move the UMM to a position of justice and inclusion so that our voice as a church may be added to the other voices already calling for equity and fairness. Then Boy Scouting will be able to lean forward with the growing support the polls show for them to do the right thing.

I look forward to a conversation with you about this important topic.
Rev. Michael Love

With much thanks for the editorial collaboration by
Doris Lippitt
Sandra Florstedt

And grateful for the initiative of
Mary Ann Michal

Like a wheel within a wheel. (Ezekiel 1:16)

This Lenten season we are on a Journey to Hope. Using resources from our United Methodist connection, we have been inviting you to a deeper examination of your faith. I hope that you have been able to join the trek in some way as we travel with Jesus to the cross. Our destination is, of course, the victory of Easter, but we don’t want to get there too fast. The road to Calvary is a place of powerful tradition; a deep and abiding faith witness in its own right. This witness is ours to claim. We are fully aware that God’s promise of the Empty Tomb is nothing less than a promise that the forces of death and oppression will not burden God’s children. Even so, as we look ahead in anticipation of the Easter sunrise, people of faith constantly proclaim that God’s Hope is available in the precious here and now of every circumstance.

Our theological task is to bring the Gospel of Hope to bear on real life circumstances along the way. Our lives are made up of many real and complex elements; our relationships, self-esteem, work, temptations, money problems, suffering and death. Our faith is real and complex as well, rightly adapted to the application of God’s grace in the midst of our practical experiences day to day. We bring our faith into high focus when engaging moments involving the multifaceted experience of our individual and corporate living.

I believe the Journey to Hope can share a significant and valuable assurance with you; that God is near and has a heart to give you strength and vision at every stage of your life. And that God has a strong concern for the inter-relatedness of all the creatures and creation. Quoting now from the Journey to Hope resources, “those on the journey learn how faith in Christ is relevant to everyday life and how having a faith community can make all the difference.” I would add that an attention to faith brings me into a closer understanding of God’s vision of community, as it pertains to my family, my town, and the world we inhabit. God’s vision is what we call God’s Shalom; a vision for equitable, just, reconciled, sustainable and peaceful human-community.

The Journey to Hope must share this wider vision as well. God’s Shalom is bigger than an individual spiritual adventure for any one of us. It’s an all-encompassing claim on our lives. It doesn’t only apply in one setting or time-slot, it spills out into all of our daily experience. How much we miss the mark of Shalom while on this all-inclusive adventure convicts us of our need for intentional and regular work at this. It is in a community that Journeys to Hope that we can expect the safety, spiritual guidance, and accountability needed to equip us for what John Wesley called “personal piety and social holiness.”

My faith confession includes, in part, an understanding that Jesus didn’t come to save just me. His work was bigger; he came to point the way to God’s Shalom for us, all of us, every last one of us. God’s Journey to Hope is for every person and every creature and for the planet and cosmos itself. And while I cherish my personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, I don’t see that as the end of the business between us. I suspect you don’t either. This Lent, my prayer is that you will join the Journey to Hope; seeing God’s grace with the widest possible view of it. Let’s start with how God calls us to follow a vision of Shalom as a church, but let’s not stop there. May we, by God’s grace and power, see the wheels within the wheels of our inter-relatedness to all human-kind and all the creation. With that vision, may we always act with charity, compassion and love.

Giving thanks for our shared witness to the Goodness of God in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Michael Love

Theology by the Cup will be on the road this Thursday and next (October 13 & 20). I am preparing for my time in mission and service with the Bishop’s delegation to the Fijian Methodist Church. I hope that if you are one of our many members in the Redwood City area, you might keep the fellowship time in my absence. It’s from 7 to 8pm at Peet’s Coffee in Redwood City (corner of Broadway and Perry). The conversation is lively, the people are great and it will be a good addition to your week.
Blessings,
Pastor Michael

Nausori HighlandsNext Thursday, October 13, Lepani Verebasaga and I will be heading to Fiji on a mission trip. I have to admit that for a moment we weren’t certain if this mission was going to be possible. But God is paving a way and as I write, we are confident that all which needs to be set will be taken care of. I give thanks to the church for its support of my expenses through my pastoral expenses account and a generous grant from Outreach that supplied the cost of my airfare. We and about 25 other missioners from Cal/Nev Conference will depart with Bishop Warner Brown, Jr. and his delegation. We are bound for Fiji to meet with the head of the Fijian Methodist Church so that we may foster greater communication and cooperation in our global shared ministry. We will return on October 25.

While there we’ll tour Suva and Nadi, two main cities in Fiji, converse with leadership of the Fijian Methodist Church, meet with the Prime Minister and President, celebrate worship and travel to places in the countryside.

For our part, Lepani and I hope to make our way to Nausori, where we will visit the Lotu Bible School which is operated by the Bao Division (akin to UMC Districts) of the Methodist Church. At this school 100 students earn their diplomas in divinity. They are prepared to become Vaka Tawa, Local Lay Preachers. We understand that they need computers and copy machines, so a part of our visit will be to ascertain what support we might be able to suggest when we return to the States. I hope that you will keep this school in prayer that God may be making a path for us to be yoked in ministry across the miles. This could be the beginning of a missional connection for us at First Church.

We will take each of you with us in spirit and prayer. If you have any greetings you would like us to convey to the people of Fiji, please share them with me before we depart and I will be happy to carry them to Fiji with me.

Blessings,
Michael Love
Sr. Pastor

Flowers at Vetheuil Claude MonetJesus was teaching his disciples about the reliability and grace of God and he said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28,29)  In what way have you received God’s blessing this week?  In the midst of adversity, God is tending to us, so we can sustain the challenges. Even in the midst of a fairly regular week, God is tending to us, so that we might be alert to surprise opportunities to reflect God’s grace, in the same way the splendor of flowers reflect God’s artistry and glory. We have all, in some way received mercy, freely given by God who loves us. We are given new beginnings every day so that we might share mercy with others as our testimony of thanksgiving. I encourage you to claim those gifts; both the one received and the commission to share it.  Know that every mercy you can share reaches someone who has as great a need as you had when you first received it yourself.

See you in church,
Pastor Michael

Someone said that everyone is either just entering a stormy patch, going through a stormy patch, or has had a stormy patch in their past. When that happens to you then, you can know that you are not alone. It’s happened to us all at one time or another.  Storms even struck very early in the life experience of the disciples of Jesus. When it happened in the life of the early church, they reminded one another, using stories like the one today in Mark 5:35-41, to call on the name of the Lord. I hope that you can keep strong through any disappointments that you may be currently encountering. I hope to see you on Sunday among the congregation. This church is journeying together across the sea toward a shore that is God’s land of justice, equity, sustainability and grace.

Blessings,
Pastor Michael
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