Raising an Ebenezer

In this edition of, “Power in the pew,” Anne Soles describes an ongoing hunger for hope.

Michigan Conference Board of Laity

Cold days of rain-sleet-snow in December puts me in mind of circuit riders. As I make seven-mile trips to the nursing home in Hart, I think of the spacing on the frontier, village to village. Seven miles can be a bicycle ride or even a walk. We go by car.

On horseback, the circuit rider was committed to some long miles, strange hearths, and different beds. Despite the hardship the church grew like crazy! Methodist Sunday Schools and congregations spread like wildfire through upstate New York, through the middle Atlantic, on into the Mid-West and across the country. 

Circuit riders were hard working and dedicated. But the lay leaders of these congregations kept things going. Cut firewood, baked pies, nursed the sick, hauled water and made a church—the hands of the Holy Spirit touching neighbors and creating communities.

During the winter in the Mears lumber camp at Pentwater in 1855, a missionary-circuit rider, dedicated to the Native Americans under Chief Cobmoosa — who had ceded Grand Rapids for Elbridge Township — came to preach. Joseph Elliott was a Native American who had been orphaned and raised by Methodists. “Elliott is downstairs preaching,” Charles Mears wrote in his diary. “I guess this is the beginning” 

And it was; the beginning of a Sunday School class which became a wooden church and then a brick church whose first collection—the staggering sum of $40—went to the Indian settlements for what proved to be one of those really hard lakeshore winters. Laity responding to the call of God’s love. They tithed in pork and potatoes.

The Board of Laity wants to respond – not in pork and potatoes although we cook enough meals to qualify on that count—to the new conference forming.  We are in place in communities across the state and we look forward to the transitions in building a new conference.  “I guess this is the beginning”.  We are ready for the changes.

At the November 21st Board of Laity, the 12 districts reported in, aware that the next item on the agenda was the demarcation of nine new districts. And that change was right around the corner.

My shorthand notes on their comments went like this: excited about new ways. We are ready. These are exciting times for the leadership of Blue Water. Our District Conference with Ray Buckley (Grand Traverse) was amazing. We have been waiting for this to happen. The bishop came to Hands across Lansing with his painting clothes. These clusters of churches give us new freedom. In Albion we have been saying farewell and honoring the work of the district. As a new lay leader, I come with a corporate trainer background. Less committees and more teamwork. Can we learn to use Zoom by next meeting?

And we found that the United Methodist Women were planned out ahead of us (as usual). And Lay Servants have been meeting together and edging towards merging records and joining programs. We are getting ready for change. Do you need any pork or potatoes?

Several years ago, the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders met in Kansas City. We toured Adam Hamilton’s church and the downtown satellite meeting with Scott Chrostek, young preacher recruited by Hamilton from the Detroit Conference. Our key note speaker was Bishop Robert Schnase who had just published Seven Levers, his book on annual conference development and choices. 

In our midst was a long, tall, blue-jean jacketed conference lay leader from Zimbabwe. After listening to Schnase and Hamilton, after talking about the upcoming Acts of Repentance at Sand Creek (Colorado Conference), after enjoying Black Angus beef from the Oklahoma Annual Conference leader prepared by the hotel staff, he asked at our table about making an announcement at the business meeting. Of course!

In session for the association, he stood to speak: “If you are free on August 4 and 5, we welcome you to Zimbabwe. The East Conference is hosting the West Conference and we are raising an Ebenezer. We will be meeting in the soccer stadium and we are expecting 50,000.”

We may have seen this stadium recently as the new president of Zimbabwe was sworn into office. Our fellow United Methodists in this African nation are facing many changes. Our own pale in comparison. And yet we are each and all raising an Ebenezer. It is a lot of work!

The November 4th issue of The Economist included an essay on Martin Luther in recognition of the 500th anniversary of his “announcement”. The Economist excels at graphs and is always loaded with data: numbers, indices, trends and the like. For the impact of Martin Luther and Protestantism around the world, The Economist charted the surge of Protestants as follows:

The article includes the relative strength of these numbers compared the population of the region. But look at the rate of change! This growth represents many, many seven-mile walks, many prayers, healing and blessings. This growth represents a hunger for hope.

And across Michigan, we are working through challenges of new districts, databases, phone system. We also witness cooperative parishes building ramps, JFON immigrant initiatives, new camp programs, congregations struggling through Single Board Governance, training 50 youth lay servants, closing old and forming new congregations. We are at work. 

On behalf of the laity, on behalf of those in place in their communities around the state, this invitation: in May 2018, the people of the Detroit Annual Conference and West Michigan Annual Conference invite you to an Ebenezer. We will be meeting at Grand Traverse Resort … for the transformation of the world.

Let us know if you need any pork or potatoes. We don’t take winter for granted.



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