by Emma Johnston
“One of the most effective means of disengaging the church from the work of justice is making injustice a philosophical concept” – Soong Chan Rah.
Over the past three years, I was a full time seminarian at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. From the very first class, my faith was challenged. One of the most beautiful things of the seminary environment is that your faith is questioned, broken down, and then built up through deeper learning and understanding of Scripture and its interactions with other texts, and the ministry that we are engaging in during our internships.
In September of 2015, my small group and I endeavored to learn more about systemic issues in our world. Our focus was the death penalty and for them, and for me, it was a chance to challenge our beliefs and to engage in a conversation that is often not had on college campuses. We watched the movie Dead Man Walking, and some of the young women still felt like capital punishment was a viable option, whereas some were challenged to reflect more on the justice system that our country champions but on both sides, there was compassion and a willingness to listen and question themselves.
This was originally published in the April 2016 issue of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate. The focus of this issue was the 20th Anniversary of the Order of Deacon.
A group of church leaders had gathered for a meeting. The district superintendent mentioned the possibility of hiring a deacon to help the congregation reach beyond the church walls. A woman sitting across the table looked back at the DS with a quizzical expression. “Wait,” she said, “What’s a deacon?”
It’s not the first time that question has been asked. For twenty years, the United Methodist Church has been struggling to articulate the answer, “What’s a deacon?”
I welcome these questions. When I first experienced my call to ministry and I was told about the ministry of the deacon, that was my response. I had never heard of an ordained deacon. While I felt a strong call to ordained ministry, it did not look like the pastor of a church. But, I had no words to express what it did look like.
Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give Up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church – and What We Should Do Instead, Reggie McNeal, Tyndale Momentum, 2015.
Reggie McNeal sets out to do exactly what the subtitle suggests. The fist half of Kingdom Come explains why the church must give up fixing the church. While the second half deals with the what the church should do instead along with practical ways to do just that. The thesis of this approachable book is summarized in this statement by McNeal, which he repeats often:
“The church is not the point of the Kingdom; the Kingdom is the point of the church.”
The book is divided into two sections. One focusing on McNeal’s theory that in order for the Church to survive in this new day and age, it must refocus on the Kingdom. The second half gives practical examples and practical steps to achieve that. While the first half of the book is Pastor McNeal, the second half is Leadership Consulant McNeal.
The Rev. Nancy Robinson is an ordained deacon in the Virginia Conference and, along with her husband Kip, missionaries to Sierra Leone. She reflects on the reality of Ebola in our lives as God’s people in the world.
Kip and I, General Board of Global Ministries missionaries to Sierra Leone, are currently exiled to the United States and are asked not to return until a later date to be determined by those in leadership; Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church and leadership in Sierra Leone. We are standing in the gap, sharing the story of an amazing people and help those here in the States to understand the context and put a face on what is a concern on all of our minds.