An Opinion: Inner-City Ministry

Is adherence to a United Methodist Rubric Germane to Discipline-Making in Distressed Neighborhoods?

Food distribution at an Inner City Ministry Site

Food Distribution is a primary component of Inner City Ministry

Summer 2005, the pathway to a vibrant missional field ripe for ministry was unveiled on the eastside of inner-city Cleveland, OH. It was in the north Broadway neighborhood with over 100 years of Methodist history. There had been a 138-year Methodist presence in this neighborhood but in fewer than 10 years, the Conference and North Coast District of East Ohio considered it best to vacate the neighborhood because this United Methodist congregation was no longer relevant[1] by the definition of relevancy embraced by the conference at that time. The congregation could no longer thrive when it acknowledged and responded to the basic needs of the people living in the neighborhood. Allocating resources to address the needs of the neighborhood left very few resources to respond to the requirements of the larger UM organization. 

A 501c3, Enhancement Ministries, Inc. (EMI), was established by the church to align for outside funding sources. EMI, working alongside the congregation, championed opportunities to reshape (rethink) church in this eastside neighborhood. The congregation was called upon to play a dual inspirational role, provider of tangible resources and the role of the light that leads to an invisible God. It meant maintaining some semblance of traditional church tenets as the congregation leaned into ways to embrace the identified 21st Century mission field. A mission field with children and their families seeking meaningful ways to re-invent the neighborhood. This gleam of hope was ministry that reached beyond the walls of the church and spilled over into the heart of the community. Inner city ministry must directly impact the lives of families, especially school aged children in the community where they live![2]

Serving alongside members of the last UM congregation at that location, representing a 138-year presence of Methodism in that neighborhood is a clear reminder of how God remains actively involved in the life of humankind. July 2005 – December 2010 was final season of ministry at that location for the faithful few who were committed to directly touching the lives of those inner-city families at that location.  Their core Christian values were inspiring and energized but their ability to advocate for longevity in alignment with the established UM rubric did not redeem our quest. Advocates lacked enough balance between both human and financial resources. The formula for the appropriate mix of financial and human resources remind two of the main challenges for the quality of spiritual development for congregations in general. Finding this balance has proven to be weightier for ministry in urban settings.  People with means are quick to exercise their option to remain or abandon any community not meeting their needs. Some will opt to give financial support from a distance or not at all. Inner city ministry always gives its advocates a mixture of heartfelt achievement along with reasons for pain, thus creating wonderful sparks of hope.  

The faithful few seasoned members that remained at this eastside Cleveland location until the final closing worship December 2010 reverberated with a collective assessment of accountability as a response to God’s call to make disciples in all settings.  Parents and children need a place to regain a sense of wholeness and spiritual stability[3]. A signature program was one that attempted to stabilize life for students suspended from grades K-8 from neighborhood schools.  Another program was the forerunner of online applications for tax preparation and social service assistance for marginalized families. The church’s small pool of retired parishioners made a lasting impression on the lives of those families and students while addressing the needs in this urban setting.

From January 2011 – June 2014, the North Coast District continued to reload the toolbox with what would be helpful for working in Cleveland’s inner-city. Though no two neighborhoods are identical, the basic tenets of respect influenced by Christ’s love are always appropriate. There were significant discussions, wisdom seeking, wisdom sharing, prayer and retracing congregational steps over those years. The prevailing question continued to be “should the congregation stick with a UMC rubric because this is what protocol requires or discontinue because this ministry typology leans more to  social services and had no approved place for fruit-bearing in a UMC ministry model designed for inner city Cleveland at that time. At least, those were the words from leadership.

Communities like Cleveland’s North Broadway are still prime mission fields for the United Methodist Church (UMC) to claim a footprint in the inner city and nurture the hearts of families through ministry. Mission Insite data supports anecdotal information about the north Broadway neighborhood[4]

The data indicates that a significant number of children live within two (2) miles of the old United Methodist facility. The facility has been sold but the children and families in the community are still challenged by the same needs. Who will God send to bring a word to them shaped by UM polity? Or, will there ever be another UM presence in this corner of God’s mission field?  

The Mosaic for this mission field demographics places “Getting by, Small-City Endeavors and New Generation Activists” in the top three categories. Those “Getting By” stand at the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, a financially challenged cluster of young high school-educated and mainly African American households. “Small-city Endeavors” has a split personality, reflecting this cluster’s mix of young and old, singles, families and single parent households. Worship for both groups must be inspirational (celebration, praise). They are open to spontaneity in worship, or unpredictable things happening during worship. Worship must emphasize personal transformation and new hope. Before we can get them to faithfully participate in celebratory worship, the UMC must first demonstrate that it sees and value this demographic as individuals.[5]

The New Generation Activists” are often the first home-on-their-own cluster for young singles and single-parent families. More than a third of the households are under 35 years old and nine out of 10 are single. This group responds best to informal worship designed to coach Christians through the ambiguities of living. They are also open to unpredictability and surprise, and contemporary technologies and music. They are driven more by sudden need or chronic anxiety than spiritual discipline. For this group, a spiritual community must lead somewhere, and readily connect participants with practical small groups and service projects (after school programs; alternative learning).

While serving as active pastor at this location, my family and I bought property and lived in this mission field too as a sign of commitment. I never treated it as a rite of passage to a more upscale appointment. My personal history with poverty, a dysfunctional childhood household and matriculating in unequal and inequitable education systems as a child made this mission field a core driver for my purpose and call to serve.  My desire to leave this world a better place keeps me grounded and focused on the least of these, especially children challenged by societal and circumstances at home beyond their control that impact their academic learning. I believe that our responsibility to add blocks of hope and steppingstones in a path that move others beyond where we can ever think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20) never fades. It just takes on differ expressions and new forms.

[1] Maddox, Randy L. Rethinking Wesley’s Theology for Contemporary Methodism. Nashville: Kingswood Books, 1998.


[3] Jones, W. Paul. Worlds Within a Congregation:Dealing with Theological Diversity. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000.

[5] Atkinson, David J, David F Field, Arthur Holmes, and Oliver O’Donovan. New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995.

Half Empty? Half Full?

In the Christian Bible, among the scriptures that we receive inspiration and guidance from is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Church at Philippi. At Villa Rica First United Methodist Church, Rev. Erik Mays tapped into the congregation’s subconscious through a sermon from chapter 4, verses 4-9 of this treasured writing from Philippians which reads as follows –

Philippians 4:4-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[a] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[b] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (


The use of this image of a glass of water (half-full or half-empty) as an object lesson during the sermon sparked an inner conversation in me about how we vacillate between opinions, even after we declare having a proven spiritual relationship with a higher power. But I cannot honestly say that I always rejoice as Paul comments to the church at Philippi. Some days I operate as though acknowledging a half-empty glass. What about you? Paul writes in another letter, 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is passed away, behold the new has come (Revised Standard Version).

Half-Empty? Half Full?

I believe we hold a collective hope and a common goal (Readings in Christian Ethics). Faith helps us to see the possibilities that the future holds. Hope is a way of generating energy and casting a trajectory for the future. The glass does indeed have the capacity to take on more water! But when I only see it half empty, even if the resources are available to full it to the brim, I might well miss seeing what’s available. I miss seeing possibilities because of my behavior and thoughts supporting practices that lead to attempts to preserve what I have as if resources aren’t available to grow it.

The Wesleyan theology of new birth is grounded in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3).  Humans process the ability to choose to respond to stimuli and in selecting how we respond. Each time we harness our inherent ability to modify our opinions when there is new information, a “glass full” response to the visual triggers our subconscious mind to achieve what seems impossible (The Empowerment Mindset).

Let’s endeavor to pursue the vision of a glass “half-full.”

Aren’t these odd times with so MANY divisions … or are They?

There is a deep emotional space within most of us where our psyche seems programmed to receive and process information about life with an either-or type of explanation.  We are taught at an early age; the answer is always X or Y; A or B; Yes or No! “Use this approach to resolve issues to keep things on the straight and narrow.” Then, as we mature and are blessed to interact with different people and be exposed to diverse opinions, we come to understand that few things in life land in these extremely defined zones with “black and white” clarity for bringing issues to needed resolutions. There is always … this grey area.  Grey area, an ill-defined landing place with options or a field not readily conforming to a category or to an existing set of rules![1]

Some spend years upon years attempting to analyze information with pre-programmed answers much like a popular Progressive Insurance commercial that aired over the summer … if you have tattoos, you don’t work; at a neighborhood gathering if you say “make me a burger” to the neighbor overseeing the outdoor grill, the reply comes as if you literally want to become a burger. Is the life we live, regardless of our zip code, really that one-dimensional? Is this quest to grab perfect harmony and balance an odd illusion?

Our leaders have a track record of side-stepping realities resulting from one-dimensional decisions made about war, immigration, poverty, discrimination, racism … and the list goes on.  Decisions have far reaching and long-lasting impact. Let’s not disregard the existence of hidden situations or circumstances that are not readily available for us to apply public scrutiny. Our life’s decisions could well be like those of the main characters in “All the Light We Cannot See” (Anthony Doerr), we live and move in ways that project investment in a certain way of seeing complex things with an eye for simplicity.  In this novel it becomes increasingly clear that “science” can be twisted and manipulated too.[2]  

When we hear about or experience circumstances contrary to our pre-programmed protocol for what we deem a perfect balance, we build a reservoir and fill it with “oh that’s unusual” or place it in our “odd” column to fuel unproductive dialogue and criticism. Most ordeals seem simplistic when we are using the iceberg mentality to address problems. This mentality allows us to rationalize the way we “think” things get done (surface) rather than reach to a level of understand of the way things are accomplished (below the surface processes). I believe that we are called to have a recurring communion with our own inner selves within the context of hearing our own voice but also learning to hear, with patience, those voices which are in opposition to that of our own.

It’s part of our First Amendment right to share what’s on our mind …

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.[3]

When we take time for a few reflective moments, our history as a divided Nation is well documented and the church’s role as enablers is documented too. Especially during those times when the Nation wrestled with slavery as early as the 1820s when new territories were being settled westward. Would these new territories be free soil, thus supporting slavery or spaces that condone slavery? History affirms that the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which was antislavery, was overturned by the Compromise of 1850.[4] The 1850s is shared by historians as decades of a divided nation because of slavery. In 1856 Stephen A. Douglas led and won a legislative argument that contributed to a movement that allowed new territories (Kansas and Nebraska) to decide locally whether they would be free soil or enforce slavery.  Stephen Douglas angered his base. He traveled to Chicago to defend his position. A U.S. History resource chronicles share that a noisy crowd of 10,000 and tolling church bells were among the orchestrated deafening detraction that made it impossible for Douglas to be heard. The tolling church bells served to increase the noise factor during his speech is an indication that he was not welcomed by the church either after taking such a stance for humanity. A stance of brothers and sisters; their families that didn’t look like him but were members of God’s diverse family.

Reading Jesus’ words as shared at Luke 12:49-56 takes us back even further in terms of how those who consider themselves religious or the Church responds to the fundamental conflict between the freedoms of the privileged and those members of societies where justice is frequently denied. Twenty-first century theologians tell us that genuine peace will have division as a byproduct because not everyone wants truth. In the fallen world, divisions are indispensable for truth to be revealed ( 1Corinthians 11:1819).

Are we living in a space in time when we are reaping the fruit of the Church’s labor? Labor that has accentuated our tendency to use God’s gift in ways that diminish our ability to act with justice as moral and accountable beings.[5]


[2] Arn, Jackson. “All the Light We Cannot See Zero (August 7, 1944): Leaflets.” LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 12 Mar 2016. Web. 21 Aug 2019.



[5] Christian Ethics in the Twentieth Century, page 316.


Faith-Rooted Organizing by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel

A Reflection on chapters 1- 5 by Rev. Dr. V. Y. Conner

The Church is challenged to find paths that help it fulfill its destiny as a bearer of God’s “shalom justice.” Shalom Justice is rooted in a worshipful acknowledgment that God the creator is present in all creation and is graciously working for the redemption and reconciliation of the world. The search for shalom means joining the struggle for justice with wisdom and long-term commitment. This is a work in progress!

We are called upon to recognize and move to action based on our interconnected set of values that construct a meaningful whole and deep ethical respect for the dignity and wealth of all God’s handiwork.  Research supports the idea that communities with high rates of violence tend to have little social cohesion – the willingness to participate in collective action for the common good.[1]

Summer 2017 we established a network to recruit a cluster of community leaders representing clergy, laity, and others who are members of the human service profession. These recruits completed the required 6-hour training, successful background checks and committed to providing support to for students in partnership with neighborhood schools. We met with decision makers for the school and the neighborhood, requested funding for background checks, received a promise but not one dollar of funding. Yes, the background checks were still fully funded by another source. To God be the glory. In the short-term, none of the targeted schools generally funded by neighborhood decision-makers accepted our preparedness and outreach to offer support. The statement below carried no weigh or push any positive momentum or hopeful impact toward our quest to be helpful:

Enhancement Ministries, Inc. (EMI) has supported the well-being of students attending CMSD schools and students enrolled in surrounding Cuyahoga County school districts through its community-based academic tutors, suspended student support and alternative learning programs since 2007. EMI continues it work, doing business as Education in Motion (EIM), providing one on one tutoring for 2nd-4th grade struggling readers. EIM worked exclusively at CMSD’s Willson School during the 2016-2017 school year.

Just as the vision for a better Cleveland cannot be achieved in one generation, neither can it be determined by a continual use of the dominant culture single story definition of what’s valuable leadership. The change needed takes multiple generations, so we need a significant sampling of a cross-sectional community outreach. Let’s all recognize the long arc of our work for reformation of ourselves, our community, and those called to a life of human service.

Somewhere in all this dissecting one’s approach to challenges, I wonder what the impact of a person’s exposure to traumatic circumstances has on their long-term approach to meeting and processing challenges? Some of us see ourselves in the children we reach out to assist. For me, I used the term “implied love.” Meaning, whereas I can’t remember being told as a child or ever hearing either of my parents or other adults in my inner circle say “I love you.” Now, remember in my conscious mind, I didn’t ever see this as a phrase missing from my environment because it was implied rather than demonstrated in connections with my well-being. I only think of this in hindsight now at my ripe old age as I read more about children and their exposure to various types of trauma, some of which punctuated my life at an early age.

How is responsiveness to love demonstrated over a lifetime for children who are raised in households where implied love is the order of the day? My love for Jesus came after I was convinced that Jesus loved me. I need to repeat this for my own self-healing – I don’t actually remember hearing an adult saying – “I love you” at any point during my childhood … even when I take time to ponder that phrase for a moment and give it some quiet though! Hmmm … during my first nine (9) years of living, I remember being yelled at for some child-like act of poor judgment but not being openly told that I was loved:

  • I remember being yelled at for taking one too many nibbles out of a watermelon stored in the fridge. Just sampling it without supervision until, lo and behold I eventually consumed, all by myself, what we called in Mississippi the heart of the watermelon. That didn’t set too well with my mom – I definitely got a yelling at and maybe a slap on the head or face too. “Implied love.”
  • Then, there was the time I had a razor blade, why I don’t recall but I do remember being told – “don’t you cut a hole in that water hose” … needless to say, I cut the hose, why I don’t know. But it wasn’t long before my mom experience low water pressure in her delivery system to the washing machine that she was filling with water. And, yes, for that stunt, I got a “beating” and had to spend the night locked away in a separate space that had once been a common kitchen area for families living in a shared housing complex … long before highrise apartments. The next day my mom came and unlocked the door and set me free … was this “implied love, too?”
  • The next little episode that sticks out in my mind as I think about my childhood (with a smile) is when my mom told me to iron a ribbon; I ironed the wrinkles out and continued ironing it until the ribbon started getting wrinkle again. Heck, I didn’t know at that time that this was an indication that I was burning actually burning the ribbon. But, mom knew so she yelled and gave me a backhand as part of my training.

These are but a snippet of what shaped me in those formative years before I experienced the death of my mom at age nine (9) and started another layer of my complex journey to reaching out to children impacted by life’s circumstances.  It’s only now that I am starting to unpack my now in the context of spiritual story narrative to honor God and those with whom I journey as we seek to do all the good we can based on our collective understanding of love, shalom justice and the call of the Church to promote change.

[1] A New Model for Addressing Youth Violence as a Public Health Issue” by City of Cleveland 2017


CPOP is a core policing principle that refers to the manner in which the Cleveland Division of Police will proactively engage the community to create partnerships and co-produce public safety.

“No CPOP without engaging the Community”

As a member of the Cleveland Community Police Commission (CPC), my role is to work to remove challenges that cause responses to sound like a single narrative or story.  I want to be part of a CPOP narrative process that helps community members obtain power and be welcomed in applying the knowledge that they have acquired from personal stories or stories of the extended family who have had interactions with law enforcement. We want to remove the challenge created when unexamined cultural discourse leads to oppressing a community member’s agency in claiming his or her own self-knowledge about their own experiences (M. White 2007).

Studies have shown that a constant emphasis on remembering the pain and agitating anger in community organizing wears people down physically. It’s important to balance pain and anger with faith and hope as a healthy way of refreshing and rejuvenating one’s commitment to lead change. We believe CPOP is a major cornerstone where the voice of the community and the premise of safety in neighborhoods to promote healthy relations will yield us a collective vision for productive ways to address concerns turn toward a new reality. The best solutions for community concerns and problems arise from citizens co-creating possibilities through open relationships. The Commission remains committed to reaching out to and bringing forward the voice of those who are most vulnerable amongst us. Getting to know community members that do not typically attend meetings and who may have little trust in officers requires officers to engage them in places where they are most comfortable (pg.12, draft CPOP policy).


Next Step Adjustments!

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius

Whenever I finally step off the merry-go-round of my ongoing distractions that keep me off course from carving out time to write, whichever research reference or prepared resource I feel I must have to aid me and give guidance in the process, is always someplace else in the house. Really?! I can have ten reference books and Bibles within arms reach, except the one I think I need. Today, I’m placing this interruption in the category of another way that my attacks and distractions frame themselves to keep me running in the same circle. You know, that circle where perfectionism is your sinful barrier and it has learned to successfully stand between you and what you’ve been called and directed to do. It’s important that we take time to settle our inner self and allow the grace of God, to realign our core on a daily basis. It is clearly difficult for a tree to hear and bring forth fruit in its season when its leaves keep rustling and drowning out the fruitful sounds (Psalm 1).

Through it all, Enhancement Ministries, Inc (EMI) remains an active 501 c3 organized in 2007 to manage outreach activities to provide supportive faith-based connections to school-aged youth, teens and their families when Broadway UMC was an active congregation in the North Broadway/Slavic Village neighborhood. By fall of 2012, EMI’s support sites included Garfield Hts. UMC, Boys & Girls Club, Cory UMC and the Downtown YMCA. Activities slated for Windermere-Living Hope never quite materialized and were abandoned winter 2013.

With encouragement from the EMI Board, I requested that my 2013-2014 clergy appointment was to Enhancement Ministries, Inc. as its Executive Director (2008 BOD ¶344.1d) in response to my call to inner-city ministry. We worked to reframe the ministry and our inner-city presence but after more than ten (10) years of poking around in Cleveland’s marginalized neighborhood and fully embracing my faith tradition, I remain under siege and intrigued by the unspoken rules of engagement in these neighborhoods. Unwritten! Publicly Unspoken! Yet, the impact of the unspoken and unwritten is wildly observed at all strata of community. Or, am I observing an attitude of complacency? Or am I observing an outcry resulting from the impact on some persons after being ignored for years upon years when trying to make a difference? How does one from the outside distinguish the difference between wounded warriors and complacent neighborhood dwellers? I need to find space to unpack my own story first and then make good on sticking and staying when it would be so easy to flee … out of sight, out of mind. Many come into neighborhoods with needs and think they have the quick fix, especially when it means grant dollars flowing their way. Yes, that’s been the methodology for more than ten (10) years. Crime is still high, racism still has a stronghold on resources, schools are still failing and families remain in the cycle of poverty. I believe the Phoenix that we seek (Superman) must rise from the ashes (so to speak) already within these spaces. But society finds it tough to respect their own already vested community members! Neighborhoods are like that too! There must be something better in the bag of goods from the outside (Superman) rather than the bags carried by those vested in the spaces needing attention.

My 2013-2014 clergy appointment, before retirement, to this community-based ecumenical ministry supporting marginalized students and their parents remains active. The goals remain but the obstacles remain larger than a life undertaking for anyone.[1] Like anything meaningful in God’s sight, no one is called to do ministry or work alone. The meditation needed to maintain ministry goals while adjusting ministry steps does require a time of tarry with silence. A time without the rustling of leaves.

“Some people may have the gift of meditation, but this is difficult for most of us” (Christian Meditation, Thomas Merton). Difficult because some of us pile-up wasted minutes trying to find the correct thoughts to reflect on or the best corner of the prayer closet to settle in … we need routine! Perhaps the natural evolution of place, space and posture are what comes when we finally start recognizing and remembering we are all unique and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Who told us that it wasn’t okay to seek God’s voice in spaces embedded in our own repertoire of proven resources (Sacred Wounds, Teresa B. Pasquale)? I certainly will continue returning to these places with new eyes and an expectation that God will keep his promise to prosperous us and not harm us.



[1] Outler, Albert C. “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” In John Wesley and the Wholeness of Scripture, by Jason Gingerich. 2000.


Is Disciple-Making United Methodist Style Relevant in Distressed Inner-City Neighborhoods?

Summer 2005, I was assigned to a church in a vibrant missional field; ripe for ministry on the east side of inner-city Cleveland in the north Broadway neighborhood. There had been a 138-year Methodist presence in this neighborhood but in fewer than 10 years, the Conference and North Coast District (NCD) of East Ohio considered it best to vacate the neighborhood, and shamefully, in hindsight, I helped! This 138-year history of service established in the north Broadway community by the Methodist Church was no longer relevant[1] by the definition of relevancy embraced by the conference at that time. The congregation could no longer thrive without acknowledging and responding to the actual needs of the people living in the neighborhood and then allocating resources to address those needs.

A 501c3, Enhancement Ministries, Inc. (EMI), was established by the church and it took on a deliverer attitude! EMI, working alongside the congregation, was attempting to champion what seemed to be opportunities to reshape (rethink) church in this eastside neighborhood. This required the congregation’s need to play a dual inspirational role. It meant maintaining some semblance of the traditional church tenets as we leaned into approaches to partially embrace the identified 21st Century mission field in meaningful ways for children and their families in this re-normalizing neighborhood. This glimmer of hope was witnessed by a ministry that reached beyond the walls of our facility and spilled over into the heart of the community. Inner city ministry must directly touch the lives of families, especially school-aged children in the community where they live![2]

I served alongside members of the last UM congregation representing this 138-year presence of the Methodist Church in this neighborhood. Many of the faithful few were committed to directly touching the lives of the inner-city families July 2005 – December 2010.  Their core Christian values were inspiring and energized my ability to advocate for them. They lacked an adequate combination of both human and financial resources. These are two main challenges to the quality of urban ministry.  People with means are quick to exercise their option to stay or leave these communities. They give financial support from a distance or not at all. Inner city ministry always gives its advocates a mixture of heartfelt reasons for pain and wonderful sparks of hope.

The faithful few seasoned members that remained until the final closing reverberated with an assessment of our collective responsibility in response to God’s call.  We felt called to support children needing a place to regain a sense of wholeness and spiritual stability[3] through programs that attempted to re-engage students suspended from K-8 schools. The church’s small pool of retired parishioners made a lasting impression on the lives of those students and on me about tackling needs in the city!

From January 2011 – June 2014, in my role as the North Coast District Associate, I continued to reload the toolbox with what would be helpful tools for working in Cleveland’s inner-city. Though no two neighborhoods are identical, the basic tenets of respect influenced by love are always appropriate. There were significant discussions, wisdom seeking, wisdom sharing, prayer and retracing my steps over those years. Should I stick with it because this is what I believe needs to happen as part of my call to ministry or move on because the administrative powers and decision makers in our conference had deemed this type of ministry social services and had no place in fruitful ministry for inner-city Cleveland? I have thought at times that maybe I should have walked away from this mission field and treat it as a rite of passage to something bigger and better.

My primary role began to shift with the appointment of a new District Superintendent (DS) in 2012.  With new management came a more intentional focus on aligning the NCD budget so that it was closer to other East Ohio Conference District budgets.  This led to phasing out the District Associate position and the bookkeeper, too. Then hiring a new Administrative Assistant and relocating the District office from the distressed north Broadway neighborhood were goals set and accomplished. Personal impact for me included shifting my duties from the role of a “go-to” mission-oriented person with multiple ministry touch points to a diminished role.  This was a time for examining my passion and call to inner-city ministry.  This included prayer, a mandatory dyad session arranged by my DS for me with two other District Superintendents; and ongoing discussion with my DS and the managing directors of Enhancement Ministries, Inc. (EMI)[4]. The only option offered by my superiors was to pack up my household, sale our underwater condo and move my marginally healthy aging husband and do another restart under the UMC banner in another city in Ohio. My final long-term response was a legal retirement. A really tough decision since I moved to Ohio from Michigan looking forward to serving in active ministry until mandatory retirement by the UMC Book of Discipline. The distasteful residue in my spiritual mouth resurfaces each time I see an NCD budget that has expanded back to its same dollar amount that was trimmed to set me on my current path in ministry. When I hear a sermon like that offered today by The Rev. Sarah Heath where among many takeaways offered, the ones I wrote down for further study are, a) learning to see suffering as a character builder (Viktor Frankl) and b) religion is what we do about pain (Sacred Wounds).

Nonetheless, my personal history with poverty as a child and matriculating in unequal and inequitable education systems in Mississippi as a child makes this inner-city type of mission field a core driver for my purpose and call to serve God’s people.  My desire to leave this world a better place keeps me grounded and humbled.  I remain focused on the least of these, especially children challenged by societal expectations with limited resources and circumstances at home beyond their control. I believe I still have a role in adding blocks of hope and bricks of security in a path that will move the children and others closer to experiencing God’s love than I can ever think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

[1] Maddox, Randy L. Rethinking Wesley’s Theology for Contemporary Methodism. Nashville: Kingswood Books, 1998.


[3] Jones, W. Paul. Worlds Within a Congregation: Dealing with Theological Diversity. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000.

[4] Mohney, Nell W. Slaying Your Giants. Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 2007.




Resurrection: Easter People

What a wonderful day this second Sunday of Easter has been! We heard the first sermon in a series of three about the raising of Lazarus as recorded in John 11.  Alongside this preached word, our Sunday school class completed the final chapter of Mike Slaughter’s book, Renegade Gospel: The Rebel Jesus.

How do you grapple with the meaning of resurrection? It’s a physical historical core principle that Christianity is founded on. Our Christian faith is based on believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. We believe that his death was the penalty paid for, not only our sins but the sins of the world (John 3:16)! Once we accept the proof of Jesus’ resurrection as expressed by the gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, lets move back to Jesus’ teaching in John 14 – which opens with Jesus reassuring us in some fashion, “Let not your heart be troubled; if you believe in God, believe also in me. I am going away to prepare a place for you so that where I am, there you will be also!” We believe and accept that death will transition us from this life to a life with God because of our relationship with Jesus the Christ and his sacrificial death.

Is there an expectation for any impact on our current journey on earth now that we know these things about Jesus’ promises?  Do we live into these promises as we await that promised transition to be with Jesus? Yes, I would say we do! We know the story about Peter’s life as it is laid out in the Gospels. He was among the first disciples who walked with Jesus to champion the ideas shared by Jesus but when Peter was given an opportunity to put his words into action, he declined to act favorably to that current ministry that he seems to wholeheartedly embrace (Luke 22:31-34; 60-62). Yet, we find and marvel at how God used Peter to write two letters of encouragement to …

 “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” I Peter 1:1-2

We are among those receiving the promise of resurrection to life eternal, an everlasting life beyond the comprehension of our finite minds and limited vocabulary! Yes, there is a comforting element of Christianity to keep us moving towards the mark of the higher calling by God for us. The model set forth by Peter also brings us front and center with the struggle we all face in ministry, in our call to serve, in our going out and our coming in. You see, we practitioners of Wesleyan theology grab hold of our faith and remember, we are not yet perfect, we are moving on to perfection. Peter helps us acknowledge the ongoing tension between good and evil; light and dark; trust and doubt. But we don’t find relief by denying the obvious. We gain strength by asking God daily to help us and move us beyond the doubts of each day.

We are Easter people! We still sing the “Hymn of Promise” (United Methodist Hymnal, #707). We hear of and live through the impact of parents being taken away in death from their loving children and families. Lord we surely don’t understand. We hear of teens being caught up in criminal activity and causing pain to their birth families and families impacted by their senseless decisions. Lord, we hide our faces in despair and shred tears. Lord, have mercy!

Peter wrote of God’s grace (I Peter 5:12). Wesley reminded us of God’s strategic offering of grace to draw us in close to himself. Through our fellowship with each other, God’s grace calls forth our human response and discipline to our call to serve.

Yes, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and we embrace a renewed hope of faithful trust in God that minimizes the influence of the frailties of our own thoughts and yield a full submission to the fruitful gift of being Easter people.  People of the Cross (Luke 9:23)! People of the Resurrected Christ (Acts 11:26)!



Father, into your hands I commend my spirit – Letting GO Gracefully!

According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus endured suffering on the cross for approximately six hours from approximately 9 am, until his death at what is agreed to be about 3 pm.

Jesus doesn’t leave a record behind that indicates that he did a lot of talking while on the cross. He hung there in physical pain for more than 6-hours. He was silent except for the very few words that we commemorate each year on Good Friday. But the words that he did speak gives us an opening into Jesus’ soul. They inspire us to an act of meditation and the use of our finite understanding to gain life through his own last words. What is ultimately important to this divine One who is dying on the cross for your sins and my own sins is others; not himself (Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries).

We don’t have a good time log about the intervals between the sayings but think about it … even if you are with someone under normal conditions, i.e. conditions that are not requiring that you give attention to pain, offering up only seven phrases over the course of approximately six hours is considered extremely quiet, even for the introverts reading this account. Many would fill the space with our noisiness many times over seven phrases during the course of six hours. I conceptualize this moment of intentional silence as one in which Jesus is letting go gracefully.

Hear the seven phrases as reflections in the silence of your own heart…

  • Jesus offered a prayer …Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
  • Jesus extends salvation and hopes to the thief next to him; Today you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43. …
  • Jesus makes provisions for his mother … Behold your son: behold your mother. …
  • Jesus questions the whereabouts of his Father… My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? …
  • Then Jesus reminds us of his human attributes then he asked for something to drink or did he, I thirst. … some immediately think about our own culture where to thirst means a need for water. But does it really mean that in this context?
  • With the first leg of his journey logged and in its final chapter, he statesIt is finished.
  • Then in a divine moment, he acknowledged his continued connectedness to his fatherFather, into your hands I commend my spirit.

During this graceful moment of transitioning, perhaps Jesus is meditating on Psalm 23 and saying

Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!.[b]
He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He restores my failing health.

Our heavenly Father helps us do what honors him the most. Retaliation for his hostile treatment is not a priority for Jesus. Can we take this character trait and exploit it for the betterment of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? (text) Brothers and sisters, we have often resisted the call to become people of God in our dealings with each other.

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in your scheduled time of rebellion, don’t get bitter during your time of testing in the desert and valleys of life (Hebrews 3:8)

God’s grace is sufficient … Grace, God’s grace, his grace is sufficient for you!

John’s account of the days leading up to the crucifixion tells us that

When all the people[d] heard of Jesus’ arrival in Bethany, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead.10 Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, 11 for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted the priests[e] and believed in Jesus.

John says that the leaders who were in charge, those with authority in the community, those with political sway in the religious establishments had targeted Jesus because of his popularity among the people …

and yes, Lazarus wore a target on his back as well too.  He contributed to the acceptance of Jesus by so many. Lazarus had demonstrated this unique ability to respond to the voice of Jesus.

It appeared to the natural eye and human senses that death had conquered Lazarus’ earthly presence.

BUT Lazarus got a call … “Hello Lazarus, this is Jesus. I need you to rejoin this wayward world for another teaching moment.”

Lazarus was obedient and received a fresh anointing! He responded, and Jesus said to those watching, take him out of those grave clothes and let him GO!

Friends, are you close enough to Jesus until you find yourself surrounded by the stench of dead works? Yet embolden by God’s amazing grace and his ever-present witness you are able to reach beyond the stench to the hand of Jesus and experience the tug and pull of his WORD to a new day and new opportunities…

Letting GO Gracefully is a matter of trust! Do you TRUST GOD to honor his word?

Reaching out beyond his own divinity, Jesus demonstrated the ability to let go of the royalty due him to take a 33-year assignment on earth! What do we learn from this often-celebrated text that brings us to the foot of the cross this Good Friday afternoon?

In the context of this very important commemoration of Jesus’ brutal death, we are still learning about resistance and commitment and fighting the Good fight of faith! From Jesus’ 7th word, we learn at least three things.

  • we learn that …we might have the end goal in view but your walk through the valley of dry bones and life’s challenges are a test of your resolve to bring honor God! (text) 9-10 Honor the Lord by giving him the first part of all your income, and he will fill your barns with wheat and barley and overflow your wine vats with the finest wines. (Prov. 3:9-10)
  • we learn that …we are never abandoned! (text) No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (I John4:12) Yes, and Matthew records that famous reminder Jesus handed down … 20 … teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world Matt. 28).”[a]
  • we learn to …Never stop praying (text) John 17:20-23 Living Bible (TLB) 20 “I am not praying for these alone but also for future believers, for us my friends – Jesus included us in his prayer in John 17 – backdating this prayer, we are the “who, that Jesus prayed about … we came to Jesus because of the testimony of others; we continue passing it on.“ 21 My prayer for all of us is that we will be of one heart and mind, just as you and I are, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me. 22 “I have given them the glory you gave me—the glorious unity of being one, as we are— 23 I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one—so that the world will know you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me.

Friends, you certainly recall that it was only about six (6) days ago before the Passover celebration began, is when Jesus arrived in Bethany, at the home of Lazarus—this was the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate[a] with Jesus. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar[b]of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair.

Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man[l] to enter into his glory. 24 I tell you the truth unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. –

This passage helps us recalls the numerous United Methodist congregations who have merged or reconfigured in some way to give life to another congregation. Asking God for change sometimes requires a letting go gracefully of the familiar, thus making way for the new!

We are encouraged to walk in the light while you can so that the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. 36 Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”

Getting back to the cross where Jesus is hanging at this moment of reflection

He’s the one who said … when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

In times when the pressures of life are pressing it, Jesus’ ability to let go gracefully is the key that opens a window into heaven so that all the world could peek in! Now we can even enter the Holy of Holies … this scared relationship is available to us because of the work of Jesus in these final live-giving moments on the cross!

Letting go gracefully like Jesus did bring us to our knees … Jesus recognized that his earthly ministry was nearing closure as the pain of the crucifixion seemingly takes its toll.

The ole prophet Isaiah asked … “Lord, who has believed our message?    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

Despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. They made fun of him during his moment of sincere service to others. Here we find Jesus giving up the ultimate sacrifice as he volunteers his service.

Community organizers often say, we have no permanent allies, we have no permanent enemies, we only have permanent interests (–attributed to Henry John Temple Viscount Lord Palmerston 1784-1865, Foreign Secretary and two-time Prime Minister under Queen Victoria.).

Jesus’ volunteer work is what carried him to the cross for his allies and his enemies. It was our sin-sickness that carried Jesus to the cross that is the source of our commemoration.

The worse thing good people can do is nothing when they are aware of social issues! What is it you are being called to let go gracefully? Are you being called to reconfigure the expression of your call to serve to make space to better address inequities in the church? In your own community?

The final prayer of Jesus was about you. His final pain was for you. His final passion was for you. God couldn’t turn his back on you.

He saw you cast into a river of life that you didn’t request and are challenged to swim through;

He saw you betrayed by those you love. He saw you with a body that gets sick and a heart that gets weak. God couldn’t turn his back because God saw you, and one look at you was all it took to convince him to send his Son to open a pathway to hope and unconditional love. Jesus made his decision. Jesus would rather go to hell for you than go to heaven without you (Grace Memories).

Matthew 28:50 in the “Living Bible” says it this way … “Then Jesus shouted out again, dismissed his spirit, and died.”

The way Jesus “Let Go and gracefully” and dismissed his own spirit, led a Roman Officer standing near the cross to testify at the moment “Truly, this was the Son of God.”

Yes, my friends! This was! This is and forever the Son of God!


Finding the Stationary

Have you ever lost your keys, or glasses or cellphone and then try tracing your steps in reverse order to find the lost item? Only to find it in some obscure place? A place that simply out of order in comparison to where you normally place your keys, or glasses or cell phone … you fill in the blank.

For those moments, we placed ordinary things someplace other than in their usual spot.

Are we ever guilty of laying the Word of God in places where it’s hard to retrieve too? For example, in John 15:4A –  Where Jesus says to his disciples, “Take care to live in me and let me live in you.” Well, the good news is that the love of Jesus is not something that we can misplace; God seems to know us better than we know ourselves. We just can’t quite get our hands on God’s love … so if it appears to be misplaced, we need to backtrack to that ever-present indwelling spirit that God sent to comfort and keep us and make all things available to us.

Our thought to ponder takes a little deeper and have us recognize that knowing where the love of God resides is wonderful … then, on the other hand, allowing our neighbor to witness that love is completely another matter!  “Jesus, I want my neighbor to see your love in me.”

John 15:1- 17 is the chapter and verses that have been speaking to our AC most of the ministry year.  Jesus uses the vineyard to explain connectedness and love. We see a vineyard as the place set aside for growing produce primarily for winemaking, but also for raisins, table grapes, and non-alcoholic grape juice.  Have you ever taken a tour of the dwelling place of growing grapes?

A few months ago, a couple friends and I were part of a group touring Spain. As some will recall, Spain is Teresa of Avilla’s home country. Among her many noted titles, she was a well-known Spanish mystic and theologian of introspective life through mental prayer.  Perhaps her spiritual discipline gives us a response to what it looks like to recognize the indwelling works of the Holy Spirit that make one more like Jesus.

During our trip, one of our land excursions took us near but not deeply into vineyards in southern Spain. It was a time of reflection to consider WHAT an inspirational walk through this vineyard in Spain might have revealed. I was close enough to see similarities to vineyards I had seen and walked through in southern California, yet we weren’t close enough to experience any of the nuances like the freshness of being in a garden or the close-up gaze at a vine that is putting out new tender green shoots……. Enclosed in a tour bus, you miss those sensory stimuli that you are afforded when you are physically among God’s creation. Being among the life-giving features of God’s handiwork elicits a connectedness to our own core through the sunlight, and the feel of the breeze blowing around us puts our surroundings out of our immediate control.

Does the same Jesus that wants to live in us control the vines and branches in this natural setting? This setting that calls you and me to reflect on his presence?

Wow!!! This awesome connectedness is a place of surrender, a place of solace. It IS a place where Jesus dwells. A place where saints like Teresa of Avilla once encountered this same, Jesus. You can clearly recognize Jesus and experience his spirit of welcome when we pause to acknowledge his places of abiding love.

Now, for all the scientific minds that are asking “IS THIS TRANSFERRABLE TO OTHER SETTINGS?


Making wine is a long, slow process, so I’m told. It can take a full three years to get from the initial planting of a brand-new grapevine through to the first harvest, and the first vintage might not be bottled for another two years after that. The vinedresser determines when its time. The fruit of the vine is required to stay in place until the keeper of the vineyard deems it ready for the next level of service. The challenge, much like the service of ministry or laying your keys in the wrong place, is the wait and proper timing for you to be at your finest.

At times this wait might seem to be a time of dormancy. A time when the cares of the day, crowd around you like weeds capable of choking the life out of your branch of ministry.

Keep reaching toward the sunlight and seek the face of the vinedresser for help, FOR survival and thriving.

  • Teresa of Avilla might say to you at those times… “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.”
    ― Teresa of Ávila

Our challenge remains, from generation to generation of faith leaders – the art of carving out time in the vineyards of life to see and experience our connectedness not only to the neighboring grape in your cluster but to the dresser and keeper of the vineyard too, which is Jesus our great sustainer through the work of the Holy Spirit. We seek to be our best selves as the vinedresser snips away our unseemly parts or gently and repeatedly remove the scales from our eyes of understanding so that we may see Jesus in the ordinary table grape as well as in the lusciousness of the wine grape and all the diversity that lies in between. By God’s grace, we will even become disciplined about where we place our glasses and keys, too.

  • “It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.” ― Teresa of Ávila – Let’s take time to display the love of Christ because we’ve been changed from within!
  • And remember, we appreciate the good when we have taken a few steps in the wrong direction and needed to backtrack to find our way back home … “To reach something good, it is useful to have gone astray.” ― Teresa of Ávila