Saturday, June 30, 2012

NAC 2012, An Overview

Alice belonged to our far-away congregation in another time. When she went to the hospital for a serious surgery, her prayer was that she live long enough to make “just one” pilgrimage to Anderson (then our International Convention/Camp Meeting).

We are now home from Convention fifty-something; NAC 2012 is history and my mind races, trying to process the convention and current church trends. It boggles the mind, like trying to process global trending--incomprehensible.

I recall comments made by people attending AU--Anderson Camp Meeting--NAC in past years. Like them, I attended as a participant looking for inspiration, fellowship, and whatever. This year prompted thoughts suggesting NAC may largely be an AU Alumni Gathering.

For the past decade or so, we worked actively with book sales for Reformation Publishers. This year we worked with Historical Society Vice President, Dale Stultz, filling in for the critically ill Sadie Evans. Thankfully, Sadie is improving and will probably return to Anderson and resume her regular role.

Meanwhile, Doug Welch (former Archivist) and Dale (researcher) carried forth, with our assistance. It made me aware that many have no understanding of the time, effort, and skills demanded to staff a successful convention like NAC. It takes a “heap“ of dedicated people--worker bees, not concerned with being inspired.

It challenges me to see how many are interested in our history, and books like THE GOSPEL TRUMPET YEARS (Stultz & Welch). Some, it seems, cannot understand the total disinterest of Church of God Ministries. We hear it said, “people are not interested in it. That is past. This is now.” Yet people continue to buy, and some conclude, “They (Chog Ministries) just don’t get it.”

This was probably the smallest convention I have ever attended. Old Brother Camp Meeting appeared to be a mere rack of bones compared to former days--badly emaciated and in poor health.

As an octogenarian, full days at the Barney Warren cabin left me lacking sufficient vigor to participate fully in the excellent programming available. I pre-voted absentee (a limited ballot) and missed the General Assembly proceedings. So soon escaped from her near death experience, my spouse could not make all the major services. It seems safe to say that GA operated with a minority control, being mostly attended from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The Eastern states have fair representation but the 11 Western States mostly align with the West Coast Assembly, all of which makes for a very poor church-wide representation. This is an issue that needs intentional addressing, as well as the role/purpose of the GA.

The Convention included a full schedule of excellent educational and training programs--events too few take advantage of. The BIG TENT, as I saw it, had only those agencies under the leadership of Church of God Ministries (quite controlled), and I saw few people, few books, and … well … not much. The LIVE Tent appeared well attended and there was a PRAYER tent, for people seeking prayer and spiritual counsel. Major services at Reardon Auditorium (2200 capacity) never filled and seldom used the balcony, in spite of dynamic services and passionate preaching.

I reacted to the “praise music” being so loud it almost took my head off. My ears do not tolerate abusing, and I frankly believe I have a stewardship to protect what hearing I do have! I for one sorely disapprove of the poor stewardship of our technology and the unethical abuse of people’s ears, just because some “audio engineer” has learned how to jack up a microphone and shout at people.

The "abusive loudness" is a far greater issue than filling the auditorium with the ringing sounds of 7-11 choruses-- some of which are quite pleasing, if you can hear the words and sing them with deep meaning rather than just a wiggle. If you find this critical, it is a lover’s quarrel on the part of one who made his first pilgrimage at age 16 in 1944.

With the approach of NAC, my spouse laid at death’s door. When God called her forth, we told friend Dale, “we’ll be there and give you a hand.” We made it very intentional, but that did not keep us from having car trouble en route home.

We had been having a minor problem we thought created by water in the gas, and on I69 in the middle of Fort Wayne traffic the old Buick chugged to a stop. I pulled over and stopped, then chugged a few miles further. Now: here we sat--roadside, hood up, motor cooling in 90 degree heat, trying to determine the best course of action.

Shortly, a red van stopped, backed up, and a young man stepped forth to greet us. I explained our problem: we were en route home from our Anderson church convention--80 miles. “Church of God?” he wanted to know. As it turned out, he was from County Line Church of God, Auburn. We frequently stop at McDonald‘s in Auburn, so we mutually agreed to “attempt” Auburn.

I started the car and he followed, flashers blinking. “Old Blue” ran fair to middlin and I slowly got up to speed. We reached Auburn quickly enough and our new friend Brett gave us directions for mechanical help before going his way. We went into McD’s for R & R in the cool, leaving the car to cool.

An hour later, we decided to re-launch. We cranked up and headed for State Line, where we regularly stop. We actually arrived in Battle Creek shortly after 4 p.m., having lost only about an hour. We were safe and sound, and within reach of our longtime mechanic-friend Rob, who will see the car Monday morning--more than likely a new fuel pump???

We both marveled at the odds of meeting a fellow believer under such circumstances, someone that knew mutual friends in the area. It helped us understand that God was with us all the time. Do we wonder about NAC? Yes! Are we distressed about church trends? By all means! But behind it all is the great God of the Universe and this one thing we know:

"Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided--
“Great is Thy faithfulness,”
Lord, unto me!

The last word has not yet been spoken, and we will continue to listen.
From Warner’s World,
this is

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pilgrims Journeying

I finished cooking up a mess of fried potatoes prepared on a bed of white sweet onions, which I have to admit turned out especially good for someone that started cooking post-75. While eating, my wife ruminated on our launch into Pastoral Ministry at Harrison, Arkansas, 1951.

She especially remembered a recent visit from the J. R. Hooker’s of Carthage, MO. Understand that I was raised in southwestern Michigan on the shores of the big lake and knew nothing of the southland, the Ozarks, or Harrison--Hub of the Ozarks. Harrison is in NW Arkansas; Carthage is near Springfield, in the beautiful Ozark country of Missouri. If I do say so, it is the kind of area I would love to retire to.

I remember driving into Harrison about 8:00 p.m. on Friday evening, June 1, 1951. That Sunday morning I suddenly became the pastor on call 24-7, the weekly preacher--twice on Sunday, and the resident theologian--Wednesday Bible Study and Prayer Service. We had a 6 week old infant--preemie. We had just arrived in our Green Hornet (1939 Plymouth sedan). Everything we owned came with us in our car, with our baby bed secured on top. We had driven to Welty, OK from Portland, OR, and from there to Harrison a few short hours eastward.

We existed on a beginning salary of $15 weekly for three of us. We lived in SS rooms in the basement of a modest church facility at the corner of East Prospect and Bergman Road. I quickly went to work for Clarence Martin, Chairman of the Board (a local contractor). Working with Clarence, were Warren Kendall (former-founding pastor), and Omar Kendall (all related). I soon found myself rubbing finishing compound into the hardwood floors of new homes and picking Arkansas flintrock at the developing Bull Shoals Dam site. That 90 cents an hour kept food on our table and guaranteed milk for our preemie--baby.

Very quickly, we were absorbed into the State Youth Camping Program. I served as counselor and conference leader and Tommie was drafted into the kitchen when a cook failed to show. Meredith stayed in her $15 buggy at one end of the Dining Hall where she became everybody’s baby. She bothered no one (poor baby grew up going to youth camp and prayer meeting and never knew but what that‘s what everybody did).

I no longer remember how we connected with the Hookers, but they did visit us in our basement home in the church. They were the parents of Joe Hooker, whom we had known at Bible College, and Sam (and Adele) Hooker, who later led the Woodstock Church in Portland, OR. We visited back and forth with the Senior Hookers over the next several years. Carthage became a convenient halfway point on our annual 1700 mile pilgrimmage to the annual Anderson Convention when we relocated to San Angelo, TX.

To this day, Carthage remains home to friends from through the years. Daisy, now widowed, was Mrs. Carrol Hendrix, our music and worship minister in Vallejo, California. Carrol was the son of the Eschol and Mary Hendrix who pastored the Scotland Church near Carthage, Scotland being the home of Chester, from the Gunsmoke tv series (Mary was a sister to my boyhood pastor Walter Weaver). Chester attended Sunday School under Brother Hendrix.

J. R. Hooker owned a monument works in Carthage and lived in a big rambling old house. It had plenty of room for a young family like us to visit and enjoy R&R and that brought refreshment to an elderly couple who no longer had their family gathered about them. It was there that we met the Bob Loudermilk’s from West Plains. Earlier, we encountered Loudermilk while conducting revival services in San Antonio at Highland Park; I was stationed at Kelly AFB. Bowden and Loudermilk were old Missouri cronies who came into Church of God ministry under the mentoring leadership of the Robert Lee Berry era.

Those days are forever gone. Whereas we were then young, we are now at the end of long years of church ministry that took us from Oregon--California to Georgia, from Texas to Michigan--nationwide, with stops in between. We’ve criss-crossed the nation with descendants of the Hookers; we stayed in touch with the Bowden’s until his death at past 90, and our common point of reference has always been our annual pilgrimage to what we now call our North American Convention--Anderson, Indiana (see above our worship center for 45 years--now gone).

This convention has changed in every way an event of this magnitude can change. It no longer has the programming, the vitality, the attendance--nothing is the same--except for one ingredient--we still gather and worship as friends: together we are a part of the Family of God. We will visit with newer friends--relatively speaking, while swapping visits with everyone we can, from near and far - friends from yesterday and friends of 5-6 decades. And what binds us together? The answer is I John 3:14: We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. . .”

This is a journey I first made 68 years ago, while still a teen. The primary ingredient my wife and I will find this year has not changed over the years--love of the fellowship. Some now stand and cheer from their balcony post within that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Others, like us, still patiently (or impatiently) run the race, and others are new, young, full of zest and new ideas and methods, et al (pictured just above are A.F. and Rosie Gray, dear friends from the late 40s-early 50s)

Nonetheless, we all look to Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2 KJV).

From Warner's World, you are

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Selecting a New General Director

“May 30, 2012
Dear Partner in Ministry,
Last week you received an e-mail from Dr. Randy Spence, chairperson of the General Assembly and Ministries Council, regarding the launching of a succession process to identify and select a new general director for Church of God Ministries, given Dr. Duncan’s planned retirement prior to the end of his current term.

“In preparation for this transition to new leadership, the Ministries Council has chosen a Succession Committee to prepare a profile of the future general director and to engage in a search process to present a candidate to the General Assembly in 2013 for ratification of this critical position in the life of the Church of God. As part of this process, we have engaged Dr. Russell Crabtree and Rev. Nancy Moore to lend their expertise as professional consultants. As the Succession Committee, our desire is to solicit input, listen to the church at large, and provide opportunities for you to speak into this process over the next few months.

“Dr. Crabtree has developed a survey to send to all ministers and national leadership within the Church of God reformation movement in North America. This survey, called a VISTA, is an instrument that will provide an opportunity for you to contribute your perspective of the necessary characteristics and gifts of the next general director as the Church of God looks to the future. The VISTA will inform the committee as we assess the needs of the church and develop a profile of required traits for the new general director.”

I would be the first to affirm our need of input from the grassroots to help implement the work of our national administration. BINGO! The general attitude is a one-way communication that is too much from the top down and too little heard from the bottom up, in spite of all the right words heard. Having said that, too little of the communication from the grassroots is often biased criticism and not always adequately thought through.

Like some of you, I worked my way through the VISTA asap . Today, I have a few reactions I hope are well intended, well received, and pertinent (Whether technically correct, or not, I hope to be more than simply biased rhetoric).

In the qualities looked for in a General Director (Church of God lingo for a denominational Administrative Bishop or Superintendent), one of the options was a “vision setter.” To that I had some gut level reactions that said things like, “I don’t need somebody to set the vision for me.” We go to considerable effort in the Church of God to provide leaders and train pastors with the finest theological-ecclesiological-sociological training by which to lead our churches. It is my assumption that this finely equipped leadership needs to be collaboratively heard and utilized more than corralled and re-directed from Headquarters.

I further observed that this VISTA was all about the national-global church of God. The job at hand is a national job; yes, I understand that. I also understand that our ministry is not building a finely tuned administrative headquarters; the real work of the church is MOSTLY ABOUT SAMARIA AND THE UTTERMOST PARTS, rather than Jerusalem (using that biblical model to guide our thinking). The Church of God of North America is just that and little more. Although we have the most financial and physical assets around the globe, we are no longer THE GLOBAL CHURCH - not until we collaboratively work with the global church that has resulted from our 132 years of ministry and is now OUR EQUAL - peers not subordinates.

That suggests that in terms of our General Director in Anderson, he must become a collaborative peer with a host of established ministry leaders of the Church of God around the globe. Moreover, it suggests to my mind that his/her (I doubt we would even consider a “her”) primary ministry could be resourcing the North American Churches. Now, if it is true, we are most blessed financially et al, then s/he must also be sensitive to more collaborative resourcing of non-American congregations and their evangelism efforts. Remember: there is but one mission in the church … telling the story.

As an aside, I am old enough to have worked with many national leaders from the 40s-50s-60s until now. We had a fine group of agencies evolved, people I knew, utilized, loved, and trusted. Granted they were, like welfare, in need of reforming, but like some of you, I helped us throw out the baby with the dishwater and we are almost to the point now of having a finely developed Chog Ministries that Dr. Crabtree repeatedly referred to as our “Headquarters.” And, although we all know better ecclesiologically, the perception and precedent are there for a denominational headquarters that controls and coordinates the church under its administration. This needs to be reexamined in the light of who we really are and what it is we really want to aachieve.

A third observation I offer concerns me greatly: “I saw” no real option for a leader whose primary purpose was that of a “Spiritual leader”. I’m not saying it was not there; I’m saying I did not see it. Thinking further on this avenue of thought, I was drawn to comments by Dr. Leon Henson regarding John Wesley, the man Henson was tempted to dub as “the man nobody really knows”. He observed that Wesley founded a fellowship of Christians who have transformed the moral tone of Western Society, for which he deserves recognition.

Consider this paragraph from Henson:
Wesley is not the most penetrating thinker in Christian History. His was not the moist scientific creation of a theological organism. He was not the most careful scholar of his era. Sometimes he misread his contemporaries, but, oh, how he read! The product of his reading of a vast variety of literature--Christian literature, social, economic, political, literature, the public media--was a unique blend of the abstract and the concrete. He created a system of great merit, worthy of our attention. He clearly perceived the heart and soul of biblical faith. This he joined to history--the history of his era--and fashioned a theology of faith and ethics that stands up under intensive scrutiny” (Henson/The Wesleyan Revival/Schmul/1999/p9/emphases mine).

Dr. Duncan has made good use of guiding us toward “transforming our culture,“ which we are a long way from doing. We stand in need of another John Wesley who can once more call us to become People of "The Book" whose field is "The Globe" God planted us on. We sorely need a new era of moral integrity in the life of the church, openness to theological diversity, and serious biblical scholarship that has within it the transforming power for renewing the church and transforming society.

From Warner’s World, this is