Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day 2008 Among W. PA United Methodists -- A Real Touch of Irony!

Grace Clayton, a Methodist in Fairmont WV, inspired the first known church oberservance of the holiday 100 yeas ago this summer – long before it became a nationwide tradition. --- from information released by United Methodist Reporter, June 13, 2008

For the third time in four years the W. PA Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will conclude with a lengthy ordination service later this morning, Father’s Day, at Grove City College in Grove City PA!

Bishop Thomas Bickerton did not merely suggest that the few hundred pastors of the conference be present at this morning's service adorned in robes and stoles, but has demanded they be present with duplicate demands coming down as well from the superintendents. Under these conditions it is likely that even the death of a pastor would not excuse the pastor from required attendance at the ordination – arrangements by the widow would have to be made to have the deceased pastor pushed down the aisle in his casket in the pastoral procession by the mortician in charge! OK! OK! So this last one is said with a bit of tongue in cheek! But unless you are exposed to the goings-on in the conference, you have no idea how radical the bishop and the cabinet members are when it comes to "laying down the law" to pastors about attending the ordination service, even on Father’s Day! Pastors were told in at least one district that if they had a wedding on June 14th, they were to make sure they got back to the conference in time for the ordination service on Sunday morning!

I had written to the bishop the first year about this grave error on his part and then the second year I included the members of the cabinet as well.

Such a disregard for Father’s Day is totally incomprehensible. But this bishop is not to be ever questioned or remotely challenged in any way by either pastors or laity. His attitude on such an issue can be compared to that fellow who sits on an important seat in a place called the Vatican!

Now here’s the kicker on this – a lady from Bickerton’s home state of West Virginia is credited with initiating the first observance of Father’s Day 100 years ago on July 5, 1908 in Fairmont WV. She was Grace Golden Clayton, a Methodist. Her father was a Methodist minister.

Details about Mrs. Clayton and the roots of observance of Father’s Day are found at the web site of Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont WV. Go to Father's Day -- use reverse feature on your browser to return to this place.

Most would agree that the observance of Father’s Day ranks in terms of importance on an equal level with Mother’s Day – that is all except Bishop Thomas Bickerton and his loyal supporters. Sometimes there is such a thing as blind loyalty – e.g. if a leader says he is going to the top of the Empire State Building in New York City and jump off and all must follow him, they will do it because he simply said to do so – no questioning is permitted – no entertaining of the disturbing thought that just maybe the leader is wrong for once. You know, a Jim Jones type of thing applied in a variety of ways and in different circumstances!

In one letter I asked the bishop if he would pull a stunt like that on Mother’s Day? Realizing I would not get a response, I concluded with, “We both know the answer to that one don’t we?”

So this morning a few hundred pastors of United Methodist churches in western Pennsylvania will be absent for the third time in four years from their pulpits on Father’s Day. Can anyone cite a similar folly today so lacking in respect which involves hundreds of pastors anywhere else within the boundaries of our republic as the debacle which will take place at Grove City College -- any other United Methodist annual conference or any other denomination?

There may be those who in defense of Bishop Bickerton would say that the only week available to hold the conference was the week which ends on Father’s Day, so there was no choice. But there is enough flexibility in scheduling that the whole thing could have been done and wrapped up by Saturday, June 14th! Trying to defend the trashing of Father’s Day by the scheduling of an annual conference session requiring pastors to be absent from their churches flies as well as a Canada goose with both wings broken!

Again, I go on record – I am willing to retract all statements made and issue an apology on my web site and at the blog IF a simple question survey is taken in every United Methodist congregation in W. PA and without any suggestions made by the pastor as to how the bishop and the cabinet want the members to answer. The question is this – “Would you prefer your pastor to be in the pulpit of your church or at annual conference on Father’s Day?”

If 51 percent or more say they want their pastor to be at conference with the bishop, then the apology will be quickly issued. As an aside -- personally I have a lot of confidence in the laity and that they often exhibit more respect for things that count than do those in high positions of authority within church structures – check comparisons on respect and reverence for the holy Scriptures, if you want a good example of contrasts!

The procedure can be done very easily and quickly. All the pastor has to do is ask for a show of hands in each congregation with a couple of ushers doing the count. Then simply send the results (x number want pastor with them on Father’s Day and x number want their pastor to spend Father’s Day with the bishop at annual conference) by email to the W. PA Conference Center located in Cranberry Twp. PA. In fact, that would be a good job to help break in the bishop’s new FULL TIME assistant as of July 1st – let him tally the results!

See how easy it can be done? In the meantime I shall be anxiously waiting to learn of the results of the survey -- remember now, no tampering or putting on the pressure by saying, "This is what the bishop wants!"

In all seriousness, at the very least an apology to every congregation in the W. PA Annual Conference should be issued by the bishop and the cabinet for forcing the pastors to be in attendance at the conference session on Father's Day for three years out of four! But don't hold your breath on this one!

If anything, I'm the bad guy for making a prolonged issue of this due to my marching to the beat of a different Drummer! By the way, I, an ordained elder in the W. PA Annual Conference, will be in the pulpit of my church later this morning and stressing the responsibilities of fatherhood from a Biblical perspective. Why? Because that is where Almighty God wants me to be and about! And then later in the day I shall be sharing the blessings of family members. The details of that family are given in the post just below this one, dated June 13, 2008!

And a PS -- I have probably conducted more Father's Day services than just about any other pastor in the W PA Annual Conference, including the bishop and cabinet members -- in the last 30 years of my ministry before retirement, I served 4 churches in 6 of those years and 3 churches in 24 of those years. I am down now to 1 church during these last 9 years of retirement! And I never missed one Father's Day worship service during those years!

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. --- Ephesians 6:4

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