Monday, May 12, 2008

They Were in Their Pulpits on Mother's Day, But Don't Expect Them to Be There on Father's Day!

...Pastors should bring a pulpit robe or alb and a red stole to process in the service of Ordination. If you do not have these items, that is fine, you still are a part of the clergy family and will join in the service. If you have scheduled a wedding for June 14th and plan to leave Grove City for rehearsal Friday evening, you still need to return to Grove City for the Sunday service. If you are participating in one of our camping events the week following Annual Conference, you still have ample time to arrive at camp following the service. If you need to be excused from Annual Conference, it is your responsibility to communicate in writing to Bishop Bickerton, Conference Secretary John Wilson, and your Superintendent why you cannot participate in Annual Conference this June.... Part of the "orders from headquarters" directed to pastors in one of the districts of the Western PA Annual Conference in anticipation of the service of ordination scheduled on Father's Day, June 15, 2008 at Grove City College in Grove City PA!

They say 3 out of 4 ain't bad! In baseball or softball, if you get 3 hits out of 4 times at bat, that would be considered an impressive batting average. If you were traveling through a small town which had 4 traffic lights and you hit 3 of the 4 when they were green, you would congratulate yourself on doing well in avoiding some red lights in that community. In fishing, if lively trout hit the bait 4 times and you get 3 out of the 4, you would consider that a successful fishing venture.

But sometimes 3 out of 4 is not a good thing -- ask the congregations of a few hundred United Methodist Churches in western Pennsylvania about that ratio. You see, for the 3rd time in 4 years their pastors will not be present with them on Father's Day!

The pastors have always been present in their churches on Mother's Day, as they were yesterday. But for 3 years out of 4 it's been a kitty of another color on Father's Day.

The Western PA Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will be meeting the latter part of the second week of June and will conclude with an ordination service on the morning of Father's Day, June 15th! The conference will meet at Grove City College in Grove City PA. It will be the 3rd year out of 4 since Tom Bickerton became bishop that Father's Day has been scrapped in favor of an ordination service!

The bishop along with support from his superintendents is adamant in demanding that all pastors be present for the ordination service on Father's Day. The pastors are given ample "warning" in advance about this (see the wording of statements in one district newsletter as noted above) with specific instructions about making sure arrangements are made for someone to conduct the services in the pastors' absence.

I'm not sure that even if you die on Saturday night, June 14th, that you would have a legitimate excuse for being absent from the ordination service the next morning! But that can be taken care of by arranging to have the funeral director wheel you down the aisle in your casket ahead of the bishop and all the other dignitaries in the procession -- that way, your presence will be obvious. Just make sure the casket lid is open so that they know you were present -- this is necessary in order to insure that no "unpleasant" things happen to you because you were regarded as being absent!

Now a question -- is there anybody out there who knows of a similar debacle taking place in other UMC conferences or other denominations in the entire United States? Write it down -- you'll be hard pressed to find even a half dozen pastors who will be absent from their pulpits on Father's Day. For any outside the W. PA Annual Conference who are absent it will likely be due to an unexpected emergency of the first magnitude!

I wrote to Bishop B. about this the first year, figuring that being a rookie bishop and quite young (I have 2 kids older than he, 1 about the same age, and 2 a bit younger) that he didn't fully realize what he was doing.

The second year I also included the District Superintendents in the letter sent. The appeal was that Father's Day is an ideal time to stress the importance of family and responsibilities of fatherhood, etc. And this at a time when our culture is fast adopting an attitude that fathers aren't really all that important -- about all they are good for is to provide some wriggly things which are essential in making a baby! One woman got a lot of publicity plus many, many bucks from her book which described how she artificially inseminated herself (the old turkey baster tactic) and has a child she is raising without a father being involved! Much as she probably hates to admit it, she did need the help of a man at one point though she never met the guy -- he provided some of those wriggly things mentioned earlier!

Anyway, the bishop, as I expected, made no response to those letters. One person mentioned to me that Father's Day is not a significant religious holiday -- the implication being if the the W. PA Annual Conference wants to have an ordination service on the morning of Father's Day with all pastors expected to be present, so what? If a bishop says that is the way it is to be, that settles it -- no questions or objections are permitted! Sounds like a United Methodist version of a pope at his dictatorial best, does it not?

A final question I asked in one of the letters was this -- "If it were Mother's Day, would you have the ordination service with the presence of all pastors being required? We both know the answer to that one, don't we?"

There are many things that call for prayer -- sometimes very unusual things -- this is one of them. Whatever it takes, may Almighty God clearly reveal that it is His will for those W. PA United Methodist pastors to be in their pulpits on Father's Day in June of 2008 and not at Grove City College!

Go ahead -- ask them -- ask any congregation of United Methodists if they would prefer that their pastor would be present with them to conduct worship on Father's Day. And do not condition the people by first saying that this is what the bishop and the superintendents expect -- we're not concerned about their desires, but only with what God wants!

And as an ordained elder in the W. PA Annual Conference, where will I be on the morning of June 15th? Just where I am each Father's Day and where I have always been in 49 years of ministry -- occupying the pulpit of the church (or churches) God has called me to serve, and where He expects me to be. I mentioned this in the second letter sent to the bishop and D.S.'s -- also mentioned was the fact that if that was unacceptable to them, then they would have to take the issue up God, because He is the One Who wants me to be in a certain church at a certain time on Father's Day! I have never yet missed a Father's Day service in any of the churches I have served over the years and I have no intention of missing one in 2008!

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men...." --- Acts 5:27-29

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