“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

This will be on the “Back Page” of the bulletin for Fishkill United Methodist Church this Sunday, 3 February 2019 (4th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C)


This is not the question that Jesus asked His disciples, but rather the question each of us asks those we meet.

When Jesus spoke before the people in the synagogue in Nazareth and said that He had come to fulfill the Law, the people did not believe Him.  After all, Jesus was only the carpenter’s son and, by inference, incapable of being the Messiah.  A little while later, Philip would tell Nathaniel that they had found the Messiah and that it was Jesus of Nazareth.  To which Nathaniel replied, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Throughout the ages, people have always identified people by where they were from, their race, their gender, their economic status, and their religion.  But it always seemed as if it were done with the assumption that those who are somehow different from us are less worthy.

On August 8, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of one day when all the children of this country (and the world) would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

A few years later, as I prepared to become a classroom teacher, I watched a video in which a sculpture spoke of finding what was in the stone and not trying to make something from the stone.

God told Isaiah that He knew Isaiah before Isaiah was and what he would do when he grew up.  God’s words apply to each one of us and all whom we would meet.

But none of this can ever happen if we hold onto our old ways, the ways of exclusion and ignorance.  And, as Paul told the Corinthians, unless we have Christ in our lives, if we do not love each other, we shall never give up our old way, no matter what we may say or do.

But in accepting Christ, we cast aside the old ways and begin a new life, a life in which each person can reach their own goals, not limited by what society may say or do.                               ~~Tony Mitchell

“Coming Home”

This will be the “Back Page” of the bulletin for this coming Sunday,
January 27, 2019 (3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C).


How does it feel to come home when you have been on vacation or away for several days? I would think that the Israelites in the OT reading for this Sunday would have been very happy.  Because now, freed from the Babylonian captivity, they could  begin rebuilding their community. 

Rebuilding the community required everyone work together, each using their own skills and talents.  This was the theme that Paul echoed in many of his letters.  The new Christian communities were groups of individuals with multiple skills and talents united by their common belief in Jesus as their Savior. 

But even from the beginning, when Christians met in the homes of believers, there have been some who said it wasn’t enough to just have a common belief; one must also have a common look.  Today it seems as if anyone who is different because of their race, economic status, and/or gender is not welcome.  It is as if the sign on the door reads, “We believe in Christ, but we don’t want them in our church, house or country.”

And if any of God’s children are not welcome, how can God be welcome?

In a little over a month, our denomination will decide who can call the United Methodist home.  It will be a decision of both mind and heart; it will be a choice between the darkness of fear, ignorance and hatred and the light of God’s Grace and Love through Jesus Christ.

There are many seeking God’s home; can we offer them that sanctuary?        

~~Tony Mitchell

Thoughts on the Special General Conference

Here are my thoughts on the four plans that will be presented to the upcoming special General Conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis 23 – 26 February.

What I know at this point is that no matter which plan is accepted, it will not be acceptable if there are not changes of heart and mind amongst all the delegates at the conference and then among all the members of the faith afterwards.  Decisions by the delegates should begin with that in mind.

The four plans to be considered are

  1. The Traditionalist Plan
  2. The Connectional Conference Plan
  3. The One Church Plan
  4. The Simple Plan

The order is my order from least desirable to most desirable (my opinion).

  • The Traditionalist Plan

For me, the Traditionalist Plan is the worst alternative.  Every time I read it, I hear the cries of “sharia law”, which is sort of ironic because many of those who appear to support this plan say that Muslims in this country are calling for “sharia law” in their communities (a statement that has yet to be proved, by the way).  Their plan calls for the enforcement of the laws and rules encoded in the Book of Discipline that says, in essence, you can be a part of the LBGTQIA+ community but we don’t want to know about it and you cannot be an member of the ordained clergy.  Anyone who goes against the law (individuals or churches) could be expelled from the denomination if they do not follow the law.

This plan is based on an idea of sexuality that has been disproven and steeped in ignorance.  We had laws like this in Methodism before and, as I will write in a moment, those laws almost destroyed the church.  Second, we had laws like in this in our country that enforced segregation, and which were said to be based on the Bible and, again, scientific ignorance.  The church seemed to overcome that period of American and church history; can it overcome it again?

Finally, I acknowledge that need for laws and rules but what do you do when the Spirit of the Law is greater than the Law itself.  The Traditionalist Plan will take us back to the days of the Old Testament and ignores Jesus’ own statement that He came as the fulfillment of the Law.

And, it also appears that many of the supporters of this plan, no matter how the vote comes out, are planning to leave the denomination anyway. 

  • The Connectional Conference Plan

For me, the Connectional Conference Plan reflects the history of the Methodist Church in the 1820 – 1840 period of our country.  It allows for the creation of two separate conferences, one in which members of the LBGTQIA+ community are welcomed and one in which they are not.

In 1844, the issue of slavery split the denomination into two parts, one against slavery (the Methodist Episcopal Church) and one that supported slavery (the Methodist Episcopal Church, South).  I don’t how the new conference would be identified under this new plan.

The debate over slavery and the role of the church in the debate would continue for some twenty years (and perhaps even today).  Even after the Civil War, many individual churches would separate from the Methodist Church body.

When one looks at the history of the Methodist Church, especially in America, one sees struggles between the ideas and thoughts of the church in contrast with the ideas and thoughts of political and freedom.  The many branches of the United Methodist Church today reflect these differences.

And, if this plan were adopted, how long would the denomination last?  The Methodist Church was split for almost 94 years over slavery.  Even today, I know of two churches (I am sure there are more) where the history of the faith is carved in stone above the door to the sanctuary with the name “M. E. South”.

  • The One Church Plan

In the One Church Plan, the laws and rules of the Book of the Discipline remain intact but there is an understanding that individual churches have some discretion as to how they will be observed.  On a denominational level, there will be no actions against members of the LBGTQIA+ community.

The only difference between the One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan is that the General Conference remains intact in the One Church Plan.  It does have what someone described to me many years ago as the Methodist Church refined ability to sit on the fence and not offend anyone.  This plan does appear to offend everyone and while better than the previous two plans, not really a good plan.

It does little to resolve the issue and merely continues the problem (which Methodists are good at doing when they don’t want to take a stand).

  • The Simple Plan

The Simple Plan is just that, simple.  It simply goes through the Book of Disciple and removes the laws and rules that affect members of the LBGTQIA+ community.  I don’t know if it is stated in the plan or has been stated by its supporters, but this plan acknowledges that our own knowledge of human sexuality has changed over the years.

I have been a member of the United Methodist Church since the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968 (I came into the church as a member of the EUB Church in 1965).

I served as a certified lay speaker and lay pastor for over twenty years.

And what I know today is that my walk with Christ, from 1965 to today, would not have been possible if it were not for the ministers and members of the United Methodist Church.  At times of crisis or doubt, the church was there.

Can we, with all honesty, say to many individuals today that we, as the church, as representatives of Christ on earth, as followers and students of John Wesley, Philip Otterbein, Martin Boehm, and Jacob Albright, are here to help you find your own path and walk with Christ?

As I stated at the beginning, the decisions that will be made in one month need to be made from both the heart and mind, with a love for all of God’s children as they are and not as we would want them to be (in our ignorance).  

Notes on General Conference

Thoughts on a Saturday morning in New York state

Can anyone tell me where Jim Cantore is?

More to the point – working on the “Back Page” for next Sunday (January 27th) – the one for tomorrow has been up for a few days (“Is Your Faith In A Box Or In Use?”).

Working on a devotional for next Christmas (publisher’s deadline, but, hey, if it is going to look like Christmas outside, why not?)

Whether or not the government is up or down, in or out, left, right, back or forward (pray for forward, by the way), the W-2 came in the mail so I must work on the taxes.

Finally, I have three summaries of the plans to be put forth for the Special General Conference on February 23. Three things jump out:

If you took American History, then you might see some similarities between the discussion that will take place in St. Louis and the discussions that took place in this country during the period of time we operated under the “Articles of Confederation”.

Much of the conversation that will take place will echo the General Conferences of 1836, 1840, and 1844.

Finally, and most importantly, it does not matter which plan is accepted; if there is not a change of heart among the delegates and the members of the United Methodist Church, it really won’t matter plan is chosen.

I will be posting a summary and links in the next few days.

“Is Your Faith in A Box or In Use?”

These are my thought for this coming Sunday, the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), January 20, 2019 and will be on the back page of the bulletin at Fishkill UMC.


Some years ago, in response to a post on my blog related to science and faith, someone suggested that my PhD from Iowa was fake.  Somehow this individual felt that one could not be a scientist (in my case, a chemist) and a Christian.  And if you could, you needed to keep them in separate boxes, so they didn’t “disturb” each other.  We all know people like that today, whose actions and words during the week are a far cry from what they say and do on Sundays.  And unfortunately, this separation of secular and sectarian activities is far more common than we would like to think.

Putting things in boxes is a good way to store them but you often forget what you put in what box and even where you put the boxes.  And what is stored away quickly becomes out of date and nothing more than faded memories.

Our faith was never meant to be used occasionally, only to be brought out on special days and our skills were not meant to be just learned and then put away.  Our faith was meant to be used every day and we can always find ways to use our skills, even if not in the way we might have once thought.  The world and society around us change each day and we would be ill-prepared to deal with such changes otherwise.

Our skills are the best way we to express our faith and our faith is expressed in the skills that we have been given.

So, let us take our skills and faith out of the boxes we have stored them in and use them every day so that others may find Christ, the source of gifts and faith, and their own skills.

~~Tony Mitchell

“The Power of Water”

I am again writing the “Back Page”. This will be the back page for the bulletin at Fishkill UMC for this Sunday’s bulletin (January 13, 2018, The Baptism of the Lord, Year C).

The role of water in our lives cannot be overplayed.

From the early days of the alchemists, it was seen that water was the universal solvent, able to dissolve just about anything and everything.  Our search for life on other planets and in the universe is predicated on the existence of water.  Without water, life on this planet would be improbable and non-existent.

And water is the singular mark of baptism.

Baptism is an act of repentance.  John the Baptizer’s famous words to the Pharisees and Sadducees (“you brood of vipers”) remind us that even those who proclaim that they hold the power are subject to the cleansing waters of baptism.  Our baptism reminds us that we have cast aside the secular world so that we could live in the Heavenly Kingdom.

Baptism is an act of unity.  With the water poured over us during our baptism, we are united in one body with Christ.  From the days Jesus began His ministry, baptism has been the unifying act.  We are reminded that Samarians and Jews, long divided by tradition, became one through baptism.

Even today, when someone is baptized in the United Methodist Church, every member of the congregation renews the vows they made or where made from them when they were baptized.

I hope, trust, and pray that you will reflect on your own baptism and what that has meant to you throughout the years.  We are given the chance today to, in part and in some way, renew our vows and walk with Jesus in the coming days.

~~ Tony Mitchell