Personal Notes from Mike
  • Happy birthday today to daughter Alison, born on this day at 5:15 p.m. way back in 1984.  (Two weeks overdue.)
  • Happy second anniversary (this past Tuesday to daughter Scarlette and son-in-law Tristan.
  • My brother Jim was sentenced on Thursday to 63 months at a minimum security prison.  With time served and parole possibilities, he could rejoin us in another three or four years.  I wrote about him in last week's Sunday letter.  If you missed it, you can click here.
  • Continuing this month's sermon series on Sexual Ethics, I tackled the subject today of divorce.  Next week's sermon (the last in the series) is on homosexuality. The audio sermons are posted each week on the church website (usually by Tuesday.)  Click Here to listen.
  • Headed after church today to Madison, Wisconsin for two days to visit Alison and Nelson.
  • Started Sarah Dessen's novel, Just Listen. It's a quick read about family problems from the viewpoint of the youngest daughter, at various stages of her coming of age.

July 23, 2017
Fresh New Pastors on the Way
People in Illinois:  meet your new pastors!  I have just returned from teaching the class of 2017 at the License to Preach School.  This class will take the place of the 31 pastors who retired at Annual Conference last month and I was part of their faculty.  We had 16 graduates who will now be sent out to do double the duty of the ones who retired.  (Do the math.)  

Only two of the 16 are "fresh," which is to say, "just out of high school and still in college."  The rest are re-treads.  But I do not use that word disparagingly.  I used to be a "fresh" pastor.  Trust me, I'm worth more in my "used" condition than I was "new."  A retread in a pastor is not the same as a retread in a tire, but rather is an individual rich in life stories and experience.
So, what did these "veterans" in the class of 2017 used to do?  We had no butcher, no baker, nor candle-stick maker. But we did have a guy who used to work at Sears.  And we had a band director.  And we had a pregnant woman who spends a lot of her time with her 2-year old and her 8-year old.  We had a pharmacist technician, a boat-maker, and a guy who had been in the National Guard for 24 years. As these pastors fan out into our annual conference, you may someday have a pastor who was once a speech pathologist, a professor of psychology, a social worker, an insurance agent, a fiberglass pipe maker, an engineer, a coal miner, an addiction counselor, or a church secretary.  Some of our new pastors' former employers include State Farm, Case New Holland, Dairy Queen, a glove factory, the United States Air Force, Rural King, Valvoline Oil Change, and Modern Bath Solutions.
One of our graduates speaks fluent Spanish because he grew up in Mexico.  He then came to Georgia to be a pastor.  And then he moved to Illinois.  He was worried that people here might not understand his English very well, so he paid for a speech pathologist to correct his pronunciations.  She told him that most of his problems came from imitating people's Georgian English.  It was the twang mixed in with the Spanish accent that was causing most of his problems.
One of our students already had a doctoral degree, others came to us with a GED in hand. We put them through the wringer.  They had to read 25 books and write about 25 papers.  And re-write.  And explain themselves.  And write a sermon on the spot...and preach it in front of each other.  The school was only 2 weeks long, but they had to start working on it last winter, or they would never have gotten all their assignments done.
It was my job to teach them the rules of the United Methodist Church; my class was called The Book of Discipline.  No pastors ever want to teach that class.  It means that you have to actually read The 2016 Book of Discipline, the most boring publication in all of America that year.  Plus, you have to teach the class right after lunch.  To be an exciting and beloved Discipline teacher is indeed To Dream the Impossible Dream.  (After I made an irreverent crack at the graduation ceremony, the dean of the school mumbled, "Well, it looks like I'll be getting a new Discipline teacher next year."  Well, good luck finding someone who wants it.  I'm pretty sure I have the most secure job in all of Illinois.) Other faculty would whisper in my ear, " Who did you make mad to get stuck teaching that?!"
I call my class " Church Administration and the Book of Discipline."  `I tell them that in real life, administering a church is 5% Book of Discipline...and 95% politics:  applying the rules in a politic, gracious, pastoral, creative, practical, and collaborative manner.  Politics seems a dirty word to people, mainly because it has been co-opted by villains, who use it to fragment communities rather than pull people together for the common good.  But its deepest meaning is good:  bringing people together in an orderly process so they can make decisions and organize themselves for their own welfare and the welfare of the surrounding community.  

Some of the students have already started serving in churches and have already encountered mean people in those congregations.  They will need the Book of Discipline to protect the people in their churches from the bullies.  But they will also need political skill. You can't just huff and puff and blow away a bully. You can't ever out-huff and puff a bully. All you can do is outsmart them. The rules of law, such as The Book of Discipline, are divine gifts when we need to face down a bully.  It is a lesson I wish humiliated political parties and panicked news outlets would learn when they have to cope with a bully ascended to power.
I love our new pastors: my new colleagues.  You'll love them too.  And with your love, my love, and their love...why...the world itself will be the better!    --Mike

Click Here for a photo of the graduates.
 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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