In Times Like These

Today is Memorial Day and unofficially it begins the summer season. More importantly, it is a day to remember those who have died while serving in the U.S. military to protect our country and its values. 

 

Recently a supporter of Renew called and shared with me the incredible story of a Methodist Pastor and his family who have been serving the Lord since the early Twentieth Century. This pastor, Rev. Bert Jones Sr. and his wife Ruth Caye Jones along with their five children were familiar faces at revivals and camp meetings for years leading up to World War II. Later they became Mom and Dad Jones of the popular radio program, “A Visit With The Jones,” a program that began in 1948 and is still running today under the leadership of their daughter Carol Jones Saint.

 

In 1943, seeing the causality list of America soldiers who were moving up the boot of Italy, Ruth Jones turned to God’s Word for comfort. She landed on 2 Timothy 3 where it says, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.” From the inspiration of this verse and the melody of the clock that chimed on her mantle, she began to write a hymn that would become the beloved Gospel song, “In Times like These.” 

 

The words are simple and few; they reflect not only the 2 Timothy passage, but also the comfort of Hebrews 6:19, “this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast…” The song is also rooted in the comfort that Jesus preached at the end of the Sermon on the Mount  in Luke 6. It tells us that vehement storms come in life, but they are weathered when our lives are built upon The Rock. 

 

How true these words are today. We too live in perilous times. Our enemy is not the Axis powers of World War II. Our enemy is a deadly virus that has spread around the globe and infected more countries than those involved in all the wars of the Twentieth Century. 

 

As we look back today and honor those who gave their lives in battle, let us remember those who are on the front lines battling this virus, and the sick fighting for their lives, and the families who have lost loved ones. Let us pray for each one who has lost a job and all of us who must make decisions on how to proceed with life during our perilous time. And above all, let us remember to share… 

 

 

May you and your family have a meaningful Memorial Day and join those of us at Renew in prayer for our families, our church, our country and our world in this difficult time.

 

Katy Kiser

Renew Network Team Leader

832-381- 0331
renew@goodnewsmag.org

Welcome to Renew Network

Ongoing Aftermath of General Conference 2019 by Katy Kiser

Dear Renew Network,

Ongoing Aftermath of General Conference 2019

A month after the 2019 General Conference in St Louis, where the work of the Commission on a Way Forward was received and the Traditional Plan was passed, the United Methodist Women’s annual Program Advisory Group and Board of Director’s met in Nashville, TN.  I attended the meetings as a press representative.

At the opening plenary of the Program Advisory Group, Bishop William McAlilly preached from his personal experience, which has given him  compassion for the marginalized LGTBQ+ community. He told the women that UMW was needed more now than they ever have been, because of the injustice done by the passage of the Traditional Plan. He asked, “How would you feel if you were told you are  incompatible?” I detected a strong note of incredulity in both McAlilly and Harriett Olsen. They seemed truly shocked and grieved that the Traditional Plan had prevailed in St. Louis.

I was expecting the general tenor of disappointment expressed at the UMW  meetings in March. The last day of General Conference, when the One Church Plan had not passed, UMW put out a press release that affirmed the position they announced at the Fall 2018 Board of Directors Meeting: they will be staying in relationship with all women in the Global UMC even if there is schism. They announced they are in solidarity with the LGTBQ+ community, which is in pain. Even before the 2019 General Conference, the UMW staff had put out a spiritual growth study titled, The Bible and Human Sexuality, where the marriage culture was questioned and traditional morality was explained away by the rejection of laws that came out of a society dominated by men. Can the UMW National staff expect to be in relationship with traditionalists when they have made it clear that their heart is with the progressives?

Before we consider that question, we should ask, is the passage of the Traditional Plan unjust as McAlily implied?  First of all, centrist/progressives are mistaken to say that those who identify as LGTBQ+ are being called incompatible by the majority of the church who supported the Traditional Plan. No one is being labeled incompatible; but certain behavior is incompatible with clear straight forward teaching in the Bible. It is behavior that has been questioned – not people.

While all persons are of sacred worth, it is clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is in the church where we are encouraged to be in a process (sanctification) whereby we overcome sin. Somehow many in the church have bought into the idea that behavior once understood as sin is now to be understood as a right, or even employed to define who we are. Even worse, once condemned behavior has come to define how some think God made them to be. If God made sinners to be thieves, murderers, and the rest of Paul’s list in I Corinthians 6, why would Paul say “ and such were some of you?” And if God made Cain to rebel, why did He warn Cain that “sin is crouching at the door waiting to devour you!” We are not our sin; we are overcomers of sin if we accept what God says in His Word and that which He has done for us. In the words of Michael W. Hannon, “I am not my sin. I am not my temptation to sin. By the blood of Jesus Christ, I have been liberated from this bondage.

Our society has accepted the current psychological trend to categorize individuals by sexual orientation. The idea that anyone gets their identity from their feelings of attraction to the opposite or same sex is simply a fallacy for which there is no scriptural warrant. Sadly, many in the church have bought into this thinking. They champion a warped sense of justice and work to obtain rights for the LGBTQ+ among us and the acceptance of their agendas and actions. Christian identity is not rooted in sexuality but in Christ himself.

United Methodist Women have made no secret of the fact that they accept new modern interpretations of scripture. This is particularly true in the area of sexuality but not only there.  Not too long ago, a UMW woman wrote to me about a UMW spiritual life study “Embracing Wholeness: An Earth Perspective for Covenantal Living.” Actually it was a study to support the UMW policy on Climate Justice. This UMW woman was disturbed by the author’s claim that the earth and creation was being equated with God Himself. Particularly disturbing to her was the author’s comparison of the death of her cow with the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. Unfortunately there were multiple unscriptural distortions in the study.

Recently, another woman wrote to Renew wanting to connect with other traditional evangelicals women in her area. She wrote to say that:

We have become more and more disappointed in the national UMW group. We do not agree with the social liberal agenda that is promoted in the UMW. The reading program books are becoming increasingly non-biblical and promote society’s way of viewing the world.

So to answer the question, can the National UMW stay in ministry and mission with both traditionalists and progressives? The answer is probably not.  Trying to be all things to all people has failed the church, because as scripture has become reinterpreted and repurposed, that which unified us was lost. When the church was asked to change the definition of marriage and its standards for ordination, it was a step too far.

Since the passage of the Traditional Plan in St. Louis, it has become clear that many centrists and progressives do not want to stay in a church that is unwilling to change its traditional beliefs on marriage and ordination. Traditionalists have been concerned for some time. For different reasons, traditional evangelical women have been leaving UMW in a steady stream for years, and at a larger rate than the loss of denominational membership. Most give reasons similar to the ones I have cited.

We are in a time of waiting. The Traditional Plan has passed, but the dividing issue still divides; and it remains to be seen how this division will play out. Yet, we do not have to wait to see the final outcome to begin to throw off that which has become ineffective and seriously troubling. The time is now to move into deeper Christ centered ministry and mission that we may see the transformational power of our Savior and the Holy Spirit. God is at work. We should be too.

Please pray for the churches like the two examples I have shared. They represent many more who are looking to disengage from ministry that cannot deliver what is so needed. Pastors and women’s leaders have written to request a copy of the Remodel series. (Read about it here) If your women’s or men’s ministry is looking for a resource to refocus and engage members in transformational ministry, contact Renew and we will send the three booklet series to you.

A heart felt thanks to all who have made Renew’s ministry possible through your prayers and gifts. Your continued support is vital to our work in the mission of Good News to lead United Methodists to a faithful future. Because of delays and angry actions in St. Louis, much work was left undone that must be addressed at the 2020 General Conference. Work has already begun. Delegates are being chosen this spring and summer in our Annual Conferences. Pray for these elections and pray for General Conference 2020. Each of you reading this newsletter can help others to understand the division that separates us and have a part in preparing this church for what is coming.

Raising funds to attend two General Conferences within a year of one another is a challenge. Team Renew appreciates each donation however large or small. If you have not made a contribution lately, please consider making one today. But most importantly, join Team Renew as we contend for the United Methodist Church by faithfully praying for our denomination.

Stand with us by going on the Renew Website and printing the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:

Good News

P.O. Box 132076

The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076

Fax: 832.813.5327

In His Service,

Katy Kiser

Renew Network Team Leader

832-381- 0331
renew@goodnewsmag.org

2019 General Conference Stands Firm on Biblical Teaching

2019 General Conference Stands Firm on Biblical Teaching
March 2019

Dear Renew Network,

During the days just prior to the 2019 General Conference, one African woman pastor declared, “We are here to give the church back to Jesus.” And so they did. For without their strong support of orthodox, evangelical Christians, the One Church Plan would have prevailed. Instead, the church passed the Orthodox Traditional Plan.

Many were disappointed with bishops who did not move the process along, which in turn left no time to adopt petitions which would have addressed some of the unconstitutional issues cited in an earlier Judicial Council ruling. And yet much was accomplished. Important loopholes were closed and standards strengthened, including those for ordained ministry.

An explicit prohibition was passed that will limit candidates for ordained ministry to those individuals who will uphold our standards as stated in the Book of Discipline. Additionally, Bishops will not be able to dismiss complaints arbitrarily. A gracious exit plan was passed. But time ran out before it was perfected. Still the will of the body was made known.

There were important amendments that were not allowed to come before the body due to stalling. There is much work that will need to be done between now and the 2020 General Conference. But that does not diminish what can be celebrated. The One Church Plan did not have the votes to pass. It was not affirmed by the majority of delegates. This is remarkable given the time and energy the Council of Bishops and Uniting Methodists put into passing it. Their claim that it had overwhelming support was proved wrong.

We can rejoice that the Book Of Discipline will be strengthened; the definition of marriage will not change; our churches still officially cannot hold same sex weddings, and the ordination standards have been made stronger. For a more detailed account of what was passed and not passed click here and here.

What has divided the church is bigger than the issue of inclusion of LGTBQIA persons. The issue that has divided United Methodists is deeply theological and spiritual. Leading up to and during the conference, there had been much talk of ‘unity’ and ‘love’ by the centrists and progressives. They thought they had the moral high ground. But did they? It turned out that their understanding of both love and unity was built on sand and not a rock solid understanding of God or Scripture.

Dr. Luther Oconer, a Filipino who teaches at United Theological Seminary spoke at a dinner the night before the conference began. He reminded us that there is no real unity without obedience. Oconor also drew the connection between obedience and holiness. He made a powerful point when he remarked, “Promoters of the OCP argue for a diversity of practices…on human sexuality.” He went on to say that they want diversity in unity, but fail to realize that what we practice is tied to deeply held beliefs that define who we are as Methodists: beliefs that “run to the core of our understanding of sin, grace, justification, and sanctification.” The progressive position makes no sense because, “…by allowing different approaches to marriage and ordination based on context, we will have already undermined the very essence of what makes us Methodists…It is tantamount to surrendering our spiritual identity to the dictates of the world.” For Oconor’s entire address, click here.

Our Centrist and Progressive brothers and sisters seemed to have forgotten or failed to comprehend that obedience is necessary to unity and holiness. Unity cannot be achieved if we discard the beliefs that define who we are. They asked all United Methodists to accept the demands of the LGTBQIA community and get back to the Great Commission and the business of making disciples – a goal they thought all Methodists could share. But as Dr. Richard Ramos has shown, mission cannot be successful without obedience, because here too, authentic mission must abide by the words of Jesus who tells us not only to go into all the nations, not only to baptize but to teach them to observe ALL things He has taught. Again, obedience is key to mission.

Most importantly, obedience is also essential to the understanding of real love. Jesus tells us in John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commandments.” John’s letters tell the early church that love is obedience to ALL that God has commanded. Love distinguishes Christians from the world. Throughout John’s writings, he expounds on love. John makes it very clear in his second letter the sixth verse, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.”

It is a shallow love that is defined by merely granting what a person wants. It is a dangerous love that misrepresents and blesses what the Word of God does not affirm. For love separated from obedience to all “that is written” is not love. It is self-centeredness in the name of a shallow love that is neither of the spirit nor of the truth. As Cara Nicklas, a delegate from Oklahoma wrote, “Proponents of the OCP argued simply that their plan promoted ‘love for one another’ implying the Traditional Plan did not. Their ‘Love’ is viewed as acceptance of any and all sexual behavior. If it feels good, do it.”

Unity, holiness, mission and love are unobtainable without obedience. Rev. Kenneth Levingston reminded delegates that Methodism is known for its faithfulness to scripture and its emphasis on the way of holiness. Levingston also admonished us not to go back to the bondage that does not honor God. He was referring to those who have taught the church to go after the flesh and not the Spirit.

The Traditional Plan was passed. Traditionalists believe LGTBQIA persons are loved by God. They are welcome in our churches. They are loved with a love that has not been severed from obedience to all that Jesus has taught.

Immediately after the close of the conference, a friend and I found ourselves in a conversation with a female bishop. She accused us and other traditionalist of wanting to throw her out of our denomination. My friend gently reminded her that she knew what the UMC stood for when she vowed to uphold and guard those beliefs. We must remember that the bishop and other like her appeared to be in shock because the OCP did not pass.

Since then, many progressive bishops and denominational leaders have made any number of accusations to the motives of traditionalists. Some have vowed in print to continue to disregard our Book of Discipline and work for full inclusion of all LGBTQIA persons.

It should be remembered that traditionalists have been faithful to the Word of God and the Book of Discipline. Progressives have put us in schism. Dr. David Watson, professor at United Theological Seminary, puts it very strongly, “For years now I have believed we are not functioning as a single denomination. Once bishops started openly to violate the decisions of the General Conference, it was essentially all over. The 2019 General Conference simply held up in dramatic fashion what has become increasingly clear to many: the divisions are so great that we cannot hold them within a single denominational container.”

If the OCP had prevailed, our church would indeed be in bondage to the demands of our culture. The church would have rejected real unity, true holiness, authentic mission and perfect love. But instead, the conference upheld what in Jesus’ words, has been true “from the beginning.” Rev. Levingston passionately reminded the delegates at a Good News breakfast that, “It is still written,” a reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Peter on whom the church is built put it this way, “The Word of the Lord endures forever.”

Of all the accomplishments and disappointments of this conference, the overarching fact remains – The Word of God and the Doctrine of Holiness were not abandoned by the majority of United Methodists.

I want to thank the network for your prayers and your gifts which made it possible for Renew to be represented at the 2019 General Conference. Work is already in progress for the 2020 General Conference.

In His Service,
Katy Kiser
Renew Network Team Leader

REMODELING WOMEN’S MINISTRIES

Authors of Renovation Core Group Study – (l-r) Rachel Knight, Lauren Shirley, Denise Beckman.

By Katy Kiser

Last summer, I took a friend who lives on the East Coast to Waco, Texas, on a tour inspired by the popular show “Fixer Upper” with Chip and Joanna Gaines. The show is about what families go through to fix up a house. Not all remodeling is about building something new; it can also include tearing down what needs to come out so the house can reach its in- tended potential. For the families that embark on this process it can be scary. But at the end of each show when the “before” picture is rolled away, the joy on their faces as they view their newly renovated home says it all. It was worth it.

A house is not the only thing that needs renovation from time to time. As Team Leader of Renew Network, I have the privi- lege of hearing from women who have realized their ministry and mission programs are not meeting the needs of their congregation, much less the plan God has for them.

Last year, the women’s leadership of First United Method-
ist Church Carrollton, Texas, met to evaluate their ministry and make plans for the coming year. They had some great programs such as weekly in-depth Bible studies and quarterly multigenerational events with inspiring speakers. Once a

year, everyone looked forward to the women’s retreat. Mission opportunities abounded, but something was missing. Their ministry and mission programs needed fixing up.

A few of the leaders went to the Lord in prayer and asked him to give them his vision for the women of First Methodist Carrollton. Rachel Knight, the women’s committee co-chair, describes this process as “shadow stepping” the Lord. “As we sought the Lord, he showed us there was untapped potential in our women that he wanted to uncover. As God revealed a new direction for our ministry, he gave us each step to take. Some doors opened and others closed.”

One of the first things the Lord impressed upon them was that the women’s ministry should not have a separate mission or vision from their church. Making disciples for Jesus Christ had always been a focus of their church since 1901, when the church was established. Even before their official founding, early members of First Methodist had participated in week- long revivals and camp meetings held in nearby Dallas. In

the 1970s, the church was a training center for Evangelism Explosion.

Currently, they find themselves in a diverse community where many of their neighbors have very little understanding of Christianity. The Lord reminded the women of their church’s mission to “create a community connected to God and oth- ers” and their vision to “fill every neighborhood with the good news of God’s love.”

Three words summarized this vision and became a frame- work for the ministry: “Gather, Grow, Go.” Gather events were necessary – large group events that had an element of fun
and were an easy entry point for new people to get involved. Gather events always pointed to an opportunity to Grow. And as women realized who they were in Christ and were remind- ed of the gospel, they would Go and serve – in the church, in their neighborhoods, and around the world.

The Grow opportunities needed the most work. The idea of short-term small “core groups” emerged. Ladies would meet with four to five other women for six weeks, and then they

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would be placed with a different group of four to five women for the next study. This fostered new, multigenerational friendships in a church where many members have been in the same Sunday school class for decades.

The leaders developed three, six-week studies around the theme of renovate. “Fixer Upper” was the perfect starting point to discuss how all of our lives need God’s redemption and sanctification to remodel us into the image of his Son, Jesus. Rachel Knight and Denise Beckman, the women’s ministry co-chairs, began writing curriculum with Lauren Shirley, the church’s Communications Director.

The first study, titled “Blueprint,” centered on God, the Mas- ter Builder, and the story of creation, catastrophe, rebuild- ing, and restoration. Women studied the biblical framework that makes sense of the world and explains the big questions of life. It was followed by “Remodel,” which looked at the process of sanctification so we might overcome the effects

of the Fall and reach our full potential to reflect the glory of God. “Move In,” the third six-week study, invites women to a deeper understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit, as they discover why Jesus left so the Spirit could move in and finish the work of the gospel.

The work of the Holy Spirit was nothing short of amazing. As women revisited or discovered for the first time the founda- tional principle of each lesson, they uncovered new insights. The discussion-based curriculum encouraged participants

to verbalize what they were learning. As they reasoned their way through the scriptures and questions, they applied the scriptures to their own lives.

The success of the studies was greater than the women had hoped. Because Core Groups were offered on almost every day of the week and at various times, women who had not been able to attend signed up and came. When the program was reported to the Church Council, the decision was shortly made to adapt it to the men’s ministry where it has been equally successful.

For decades this church has had a vibrant commitment to global missions. Currently, they are planting churches in

Cambodia, supporting orphanages in Honduras, India, and Paki- stan, and leading evangelistic baseball summer camps in Germa- ny. But encouraging Core Groups to “go” together has helped the church focus on local ministries in their neighborhoods such as sidewalk Bible school for Spanish-speaking families every Satur- day and partnering with local food banks. There was every reason for Core Groups leaders to encourage their small groups to join in and strengthen the mission commitments of their local church.

With shared mission, First Methodist Carrollton is united and prepared for whatever challenges that may come. Their new program began with a handful of women committed to prayer. They know that when you seek the will of God, honor the teaching of Christ, and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord will bless even in difficult times.

We live in challenging times. Division in our culture, in our church, and in our families is prevalent and threatens our founda- tions. But if our foundation is built on and committed to the gos- pel of Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear. There may be crises and division in the church, but God is still at work in the life of the church and in the lives of those who faithfully seek him.

Katy Kiser is the Team Leader for Renew Women’s Ministries. Lauren Shirley contributed to this report. If you are interested in learning more about the ministry and curriculum at First Methodist Carrollton, contact Katy Kiser at Renew Network at 832-0331 or by email at renew@goodnewsmag.org

The Adoration of the Shepherds

Dear RENEW Network,

It is December and literally everywhere we go are reminders that “Tis the Season.” For Christians, it is the season of Advent, the coming of the Christ Child, the Emmanuel, the arrival of God with us, God Incarnate.

The incarnation of God is a great mystery. Jesus leaves heaven and allows Himself to be born a baby, a fully human baby. The birth of a baby is generally a happy thing, a blessed event. But in the case of the birth of Jesus, it is a miracle, and one which cannot happen in the normal course of life. But it did happen! And with it came the long-awaited Messiah, who brings salvation to all who will accept Him.

Think about it. He comes. He comes to earth where He too is subject to time and space and all the realities and temptations of a fallen world. He is still fully God, but He comes as we all come into the world – in the human flesh of a baby. Jesus, the Son of God, leaves eternity; and in doing so, He manifests God among us. And what He leaves, we gain.

No one puts it more beautifully than John in the first verses of his Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. All things were made through Him,
and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him
was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light
shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Why would He leave Heaven and come? In a word – Love. Something has happened to His beautiful light-filled creation. That something is sin. But just as the love of God created the world and all that we can know or imagine, His love was sent to right every wrong, destroy the works of evil, offer us all salvation and eternal life. How? – through the birth and death of the Only Begotten Son of God. The ‘Good News’ is, God’s love is more powerful than the power of sin and death. That is a point that we should not gloss over or take for granted.

We know the story well. Birth is celebrated at Christmas. Christ, the incarnate, came that first Christmas. And each year we acknowledge it yet again. Each year we are offered the opportunity to experience this mystery, the mystery of God’s deep love. For Jesus came; He comes; and He will come again.

In most churches, we celebrate the Advent Wreath; the first candle we light is the candle of ‘hope.’ If ever we needed hope, we need it this Christmas and in the months to come. We all come to impasses in our lives where we need the hope only the Savior can give. But this year the hope we need is more than just personal; it is corporate. We are at an impasse in the United Methodist Church. We have been approaching this impasse for some time and many of us have been afraid to meet it head on.

Our Church has sought unity in every possible way, trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Our leaders have studied the issue from every angle. Some of us have ignored the issue; we haven’t talked about it. We have just kept on being the church and making disciples. Others have been on a crusade to change the church into a shape of their own, one that accommodates the current sexually permissive culture. Still others have been like the ‘watchmen’ of Ezekiel 33 warning the church it is going astray.

So what does the incarnate Jesus have to say to us?

Perhaps His answer is found in His birth. For God sent His Son into a family; He sent Jesus to Mary and Joseph, the holy family. By the very birth of Jesus, we are reminded that the original family was holy, being made in the image of God, male and female, and told to be fruitful and multiply. And in a real sense, when we strive to reject or redefine God’s original plan for humankind, we reject God’s incarnate Son sent to save us. John in the fourth chapter of his first letter tells us as much.

The answer also lies in Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John Chapter 3. He points us to birth, or to be more exact – rebirth. We must be born again. For by Christ’s incarnation comes the promise of complete human redemption and perfection and the restoration of ‘the body’ to be the organ of the Holy Spirit. Each of us is meant to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. There are also profound implications for the church – the ‘body’ corporate.

Maybe we won’t fully understand what God is doing until after the special General Conference in February of next year. Maybe what happens at that conference won’t play out as painfully and destructively as it has in other denominations. Then again, birth can be painful; it is associated with travail. But when the process is over, we rejoice that new life has come!

As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming and the New Year, let us remember the promise of new life that Jesus offers each of us and to our church. Let us keep the promise of birth and rebirth before us and not lose heart.

For, whatever happens, God is with us.

For us at Renew, we will be celebrating you – our faithful network, who prays for our work and whose contributions make it happen. It has been an outstanding year. We have helped churches refocus their women’s ministries to be more gospel centered. Our analysis has helped women’s groups discern various teachings that offer more of the world than of the Word. Your faithful support enabled Renew to give their first scholarship to an outstanding young evangelical woman, who is making a difference in the United Methodist Church. (More about her later.) And let us not forget our new website. Your faithfulness has made this and more happen.

Please be in prayer for our church. Your end of the year gifts will make it possible for Renew to be present at the Special General Conference in February 2019.

Stand with us by going on the Renew Website and printing the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:

Good News
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
Fax: 832.813.5327

In His Service,
Katy Kiser
Renew Team Leader

Welcome to Renew

By Katy Kiser, Team Leader of the Renew Network

The Renew Network new website comes just in time for an important year in the history of Renew and in the life of the church. In 2019, Renew Network will celebrate thirty years of faithful service to the women of the United Methodist Church.  Renew continues to be a network of women and women’s groups in the United Methodist Church that are faithfully seeking to grow in the knowledge of Jesus as we seek and serve Him.  Renew began as the women’s ministry arm of Good News and continues to be a part of their vital ministry to the United Methodist Church.

2019 will be critical years to the future of the Methodist Church and the Wesleyan expression of our faith. The decisions made at the February called General Conference will realign us with the Faith “once delivered to the saints” or entrench our church further into the demands of a culture, which has lost its way.  We will choose a path in the name of “unity” which will not only compromise our witness, but also lead to further decline. Or we will “stand firm” in the historic faith that has prevailed over the last two-thousand plus years.

Vital ministry will be especially important in the life of the church during the next many months. It is important that we continue to address the spiritual needs of women to grow in knowledge and understanding of Christ and the Gospel. It is also important to understand the challenges both within and without our beloved church if we are to go forward in faithful witness and service.

With this in mind, let me draw your attention to some new resources on our site for your consideration.

On this site and our Facebook page you will find many resources to help you and your women’s group.  I serve as Team Leader of an amazing group of Wesleyan women – some with whom you may already be familiar.  Learn more about our team and contributors under the “ABOUT RENEW” tab at the top of our Home page.  Under the “START A MINISTRY” tab, you will find help for starting or expanding a women’s ministry in your church. The Ministry Survey is designed to target the specific needs in your context and reach the younger women in your church.

Also in the “START A MINISTRY” section of the website you will find examples of women and women’s groups who are reaching out to their own communities and to the world with the love of Christ.  These inspirational stories are meant to help you and your women’s group find the projects that will motivate Christian service rooted in the Great Commission and the mission of the church to make disciples of Christ.

We are excited that there are many clergy and lay-women who are providing Bible studies from a Wesleyan perspective.  As Rob Renfroe says, when Methodist do it right, no one does it better.  Be sure to check out the Devotionals, Renew Writings and Recommended Books and Bible Studies under “MINISTRY RESOURCES.”  

There you will find “Ascending the Mountain,” a 30 day devotional challenge by Renew Steering Committee member and WCA secretary, Rev. Madeline C. Henners. The book is a journey of excitement, surrender, and learning to hear God’s voice. It will deepen your understanding of the Christian’s call to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength as you grow your relationship with Him.  It is perfect for small or large group study as well as your personal time with the Lord.

You will also find a book titled, “Adventure of Surrender” by long time friend of Renew, Marilyn Andress. Many of our supporters will remember Marilyn’s column in Good News Magazine. This book teaches the reader how to let go and let God – in a word Surrender – through the words of Jesus found in John 15. See Jesus’ teaching on abiding in the vine in a new light; discover the key to a fruitful life; and deepen your knowledge of the fruit of the Spirit.

Reverends Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton give an evangelical perspective on the division in the UMC in their book, “Are We Really Better Together?” This book gives the most comprehensive yet succinct understanding of the issues that divide the UMC. This book tackles why we are divided over the authority of Scripture, the biblical understanding of human sexuality, the meaning of mission, and the division over the best way forward. This book is a great resource for starting or continuing a conversation in your local church about the crisis in the United Methodist Church. This book is perfect for helping your church or your ministry group understand the deeper issues that have caused division in the United Methodist Church.

Also under the ““MINISTRY RESOURCES” tab you will find some thought provoking devotionals. The wisdom of clergy woman, BJ Funk is just right for starting your daily time with the Lord; or beginning your women’s meetings.  Mary Lambrecht offers insight on building healthy families, spiritual growth and healing from trauma and loss. We are very excited about the women in the United Methodist Church who are writing from a Wesleyan perspective.

If you did not see the article on Why UMW is Declining in the July/August edition of the Good News Magazine, you will find it on the home page of the Renew Network website. Women from various parts of the country have called or emailed to thank Renew for giving voice to the issues that have been concerning them for decades. Others have been prompted to call for ministry ideas that will meet the needs of the unreached women in their congregations. Still others look to Renew for analysis of issues and denominational happenings.

A hearty thanks to all who have made Renew’s ministry possible through your prayers and gifts.  Your continued support is vital to our work in the mission of Good Newsto lead United Methodists to a faithful future. Team Renew appreciates each donation however large or small. If you have not made a contribution lately, please consider making one today. But most importantly, join Team Renew as we contend for the United Methodist Church by faithfully praying for our denomination’s called General Conference scheduled for February 23-25, 2019 in St Louis, MO.

Stand with us by going on the Renew Website and printing the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:

Good News

P.O. Box 132076

The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076

Fax: 832.813.5327

 

In His Service,

Katy Kiser

Renew Network Team Leader

832-381- 0331
renew@goodnewsmag.org

Why is UMW Declining?

Bishops preside over a service of Holy Communion during closing worship at the United Methodist Women Assembly 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

By Katy Kiser –

In 1973, Response magazine, the official publication for the United Methodist Women (UMW), claimed the organization had 1.5 million members. Since that time, membership in UMW has declined at an alarming rate.

In 2012, the Women’s Division was granted independence from the General Board of Global Mission – and became the United Methodist Women National Office. The staff hoped their independence would bring new vitality and influence, but the organization has failed to curb its staggering membership loss.

Currently, less than half of the nearly 32,000 United Methodist congregations in the United States have a UMW unit. (It should be noted that UMW identity carries a different sense of spirituality and fellowship outside the U.S.). Institutionally, UMW is losing members at five times the rate that the general church is losing female members. According to official GCFA numbers at the end of 2016, membership in UMW was only 438,543. The decline from 1.5 million to less than 450,000 is drastic. The signs are not looking promising. Within the last 10 years, UWM lost more than 200,000 members — nearly one-third of its membership.

What has contributed to this precipitous membership loss? Like the general church, it can be partially attributed to the death of its aging membership, which is not being replaced. But this is not the primary reason.

As Team Leader of Renew Network, the women’s arm of Good News, I get a steady stream of calls from women who voice concerns for the partisan politics, missiology, and theology coming out of the UMW National Office. It is in their voices that I find compelling reasons why eight out of every nine women in the United Methodist Church do not belong to or support the UMW.

It’s all Partisan Politics

“Can you help our United Methodist Women?” asked the woman on the phone when she called our office. “We don’t want politics. We want Bible study!”

By far the question most asked of Renew is, “What can you tell me about the politics of the UMW? The women of my church want to know.” These requests represent a concern that the leadership is predominately involved in community organizing, activism, and lobbying for specific left-leaning political outcomes.

The perception that UMW is political is supported by the United Methodist Women’s lobbying presence on Capitol Hill, which is run out of the UMW National Policy Office in D.C. as well as at the United Nations where they have consultative status. Women are invited to participate in political action through a number of venues.

On its website, it maintains a list of Action Alerts (currently 40+). These alerts give everything women need to call or write Washington and add their voices to support or defeat the positions that the National Office recommends. Rarely do these Alerts reflect the concerns or positions of moderate or conservative women. It disturbs these women when they hear the UMW staff claim to represent all women in the United Methodist Church.

The UMW National Office also sponsors Annual Social Action or Legislative Events in various states where women can gather to influence state policies as they relate to the justice priorities of UMW. This year, at the UMW 30th Annual Legislative Event in Austin Texas, the women partnered with Texas Impact, a progressive advocacy group. The UMW rarely if ever advocates for politically moderate or conservative public policy solutions.

The UMW National Office utilizes “Mission U” held in every conference each summer and a quadrennial national gathering know as “Assembly” to organize the women for action. At the May Assembly, women were organized to embrace their power to change our economy, our climate, women’s health, and the incarceration rate. The event held 54 workshops led by social activists – two of whom were co-chair persons for the 2017 Women’s March held the day after the inauguration – including the exceedingly controversial Linda Sarsour, a provocative Muslim-American activist.

Over the years, UMW’s political activism has been rooted in an unbalanced and strongly progressive perspective. Without fail, it advocates for public policies that call upon big government solutions to social inequality. Rarely do they consider unintended consequences or the possibility that government intervention can hurt instead of help. Social inequality has widened as the traditional family has weakened. But strengthening the traditional family is not a justice priority of UMW.

Becoming informed and participating in the political process is not at issue, nor is the importance of the church’s social witness. But when the work of the UMW clearly promotes policies that favor the legislative proposals of one party over the other, it leaves them open to the charge they are both political and partisan.

Partisan politics is not a recipe for growth. Nor is it a recipe for making disciples for Jesus Christ.

What is Mission?

The emphasis on activism and community organizing begs the question, “What is Mission to the United Methodist Women?” In a 2017 summer newsletter, Harriet Olson asked a similar question. She quoted an orthodox theologian saying, “Mission is following the Holy Trinity into the World.” She went on to say, “We hear and respond to the cries of the needy… and we root ourselves in the core of the message: to ‘love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength’ through faith in Christ and to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.” Wonderful words indeed.

But it is not in these words that women question the motives or the mission of UMW; it is in the actions they take that women have asked, “Has the mission of UMW become a mere political vision for social justice as defined by progressive politics and in so doing neglected, if not lost, the gospel altogether?”

Is it possible to bring about the Kingdom of God by changing our social systems? The UMW National Office appears to believe it is. Why else would they put so much emphasis on one-sided partisan responses to all the controversial issues facing the United States? Politics, politics, politics.

At the 2012 and 2016 General Conferences, an individual submitted legislation to amend the Responsibilities of United Methodist Women in paragraph 1320 of the Book of Discipline to include the statement, “Encourage United Methodist Women in efforts to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to their local communities.” This petition would have required the incorporation of evangelism, central to the mission of the church. The UMW did not support the petition; it failed.

The UMW were not successful in their effort to stop a petition and a resolution to recognize and encourage women’s and men’s ministry independent of UMW and UMM. But they did insert the phrase “justice advocacy” into the resolution, signaling its continued commitment to their particular vision of progressive social justice.

Many women who believe Christ alone is unique and holds the keys to salvation and transformation of the soul realize the gospel has been sidelined. In its place, transformation of our “systems” and achieving human so-called justice based on material equality has become a substitute for the cosmic changing work of Christ on the cross.

This point should be remembered when we hear some bishops claim that all Methodists can agree to lay aside theological differences and organize around shared mission. The issues that divide us politically, also divide us theologically and lead us to different understandings of mission. The “social holiness” of John Wesley was a concept based on discipleship – not the partisan brand of “social justice” promoted by the UMW.

Radical Feminism and Other Theological Concerns

Theological concerns have also played a major role in the decline of United Methodist Women. In 2016, UMW Spiritual Life Study, The Bible and Human Sexuality came out; it was a focus at Mission U (what used to be known as the UMW School of Christian Mission). A female clergy friend and I decided to attend; we had read the book and had serious concerns. The author had reinterpreted scripture to justify a new understanding of biblical morality. We were hoping that Mission U, which reaches thousands of women each summer in each annual conference, would be more balanced than we had found the book.

Our hopes were not realized. An entire Saturday was spent deconstructing biblical teaching on sexuality and revising it to promote a new sexual ethic. This book turned the Bible’s teaching on sex before marriage, adultery, and marriage upside down. It undercut the Bible’s dichotomy between sin and righteousness by calling into question time-honored understanding of Scripture. Much of the revisionist questioning came out of the author’s claim that the Old and New Testaments were written in a time of male dominated society (patriarchy) and thus many of the injunctions of scripture are not applicable.

The participants were asked to accept not only the practice of homosexuality, but also a sexual ethic that would eliminate any scriptural boundaries on sexual practice other than “consent and safety.” We were asked to categorize our sexual experiences as positive or negative. We were told that the church needed to discard the marriage culture, because it condones harmful behaviors as long as they are within marriage and says nothing to singles, widows, and homosexuals.

To reinforce these points, we were shown a short film where Barbara Lee, a Christian feminist said, “To relate to each other as whole human beings, we need to develop and live by a Sexual Ethic that celebrates sex while treating it with moral integrity. An ethic that begins by recognizing that people of all sexual orientation and gender identities, of all marital status, and of all physical capacities, have the right to experience sex as a healthy and life-giving part of their existence.”

Sex was being taught not as a covenant between a man and a woman ordained by God, but as a “right” because it was God’s good gift, healthy and pleasurable.

In the early 1990s, the then Women’s Division was a major participant in the Re-Imagining Conference, which was initiated by the World Council of Churches and billed as a theological conference for feminist, womanist, and lesbian ideology. The conference created quite a stir in United Methodism.

The radical feminism and goddess worship that permeated the conference has not gone away in the decades since. In fact, the Sophia worship of the Re-Imagining Conference resurfaced in the 2017 UMW spiritual growth study titled, If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood and Becoming All God Means for You to Be. The authors reinterpreted scripture beginning with the creation story where they reframe “Eve as a wise woman, the serpent as an agent of transformation, and the garden as a symbol of innocence that must be left behind to experience the complex fullness of life.”

The authors see the Bible as a “call of liberation.” They portray the Holy Spirit not as the Spirit Jesus describes in John 14, but as one that brings new revelation as society evolves. They see biblical teaching on sexual morality and purity as fear-based ideas that young women should reject. The authors believe the lack of feminine language for God promotes sexism. They encourage women to name God for themselves, because seeing God as “He” keeps the oppressive patriarchal systems in place.

Is it any wonder that some women have left their UMW units over serious theological concerns?

Good News for Women’s Ministry

At the same time that UMW has been declining, Christ-centered, biblically based, spirit empowered women’s ministry and mission has been thriving. This fact was recognized at the 2016 General Conference when paragraph 256 in the Book of Discipline was amended to officially allow and encourage women’s ministry alternatives to UMW. This addition to the Discipline has given women in the local church the freedom to expand their ministries in hopes of not only growing membership, but also with the goal of growing in Christ and offering him to a hurting and confused world.

Although the staff of the UMW National Office continues to claim that UMW is the only official women’s ministry in the church, this simply is not true. Women’s ministry in the church is not limited to UMW. Many women in the local church have recognized that unless we ourselves are transformed by and have a deep relationship with Christ, we cannot hope to further the mission to make disciples and transform the world. We cannot share what we do not have. The world does not need more of the world and its secular agendas. The world needs the transforming power of our Savior.

It was the power of Jesus Christ that inspired the women in Women’s Society of Christian Service and Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church both of which originated in the late 1800s. The torch that carried the light of Christ into the world by the courageous women of the predecessor organizations has been preserved in the work of any number of Methodist women in the church today.

These fore-mothers are claimed by UMW who trace their origin back to these early groups. But if these inspiring women were with us today, they would have much in common with the women’s groups who operate outside UMW. They too would most likely be concerned by the politicization of mission and revisionist interpretations of Scripture. Thankfully, new evangelical Wesleyan women’s voices have emerged within the United Methodist Church. Women who do not belong to UMW are attending various Bible studies, ministry programs, prayer groups where spiritual formation is faithful to Scripture. They participate in both local and global mission opportunities which take seriously the Great Commission that Jesus gave his disciples and subsequent generations.

With the new legislation passed at General Conference 2016, the future for women is bright despite the decline of United Methodist Women. 

Women in the Mission and Ministry of Prayer

Founders of Knit-A-Prayer from left to right: Karen Wentzel, Sharon Wainwright, Rev. Dr. Richard Thompson, and Joyce Spetz. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California.

Thousands of American service men and women have lost their lives in the on-going battle against terrorism. Since 2009, bodies of fallen soldiers, mostly from the war-torn areas of Afghanistan and Iraq, have been flown into Dover Air Force Base. At Dover, these heroes are given a dignified transfer as they are received by their grieving loved ones. And it is here that those loved ones are comforted by the ministry of the women of the First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California. The women call their ministry, Knit-A-Prayer.

The Dignified Transfer program at Dover has become a vital tradition of honor, respect, and a way of acknowledging the sacrifice of the fallen. Early in the Repatriation and Dignified Transfer program, chaplains at Dover asked for prayer shawls and lap blankets. They wanted grieving families to have something tangible to show that they were surrounded by the love of God and the prayers of fellow citizens. They also wanted them to know our country does not take their loved one’s loss of life for granted nor is it unaware of the deep grief the family experiences.

When families receive their fallen soldier at Dover Air Force Base, they are ushered onto the tarmac to witness a solemn ceremony as the casket is brought off a plane. Often the walk from the base to the plane is cold and windy. The shawls the family receives provide comfort both spiritually and physically. Many notes of appreciation have been sent to the Bakersfield women. For example:

“I’m writing to thank you on behalf of my sister. She and her family live in Arkansas. On November 20, her grandson, my great nephew, was killed in Afghanistan. When his dad flew to Dover AFB to receive his body, he was presented with a prayer shawl made by your group. Their hearts were touched by the shawl, the note you included, the words of comfort and the prayers that had gone up in the making of the shawl. I’m amazed at our God and how He works. Words cannot express our appreciation. God is good all the time. Blessings to you.”

Although the number of fatalities has fallen in recent years, the Methodist women in Bakersfield continue to pray and send the love of God to those who grieve.

In May, just before Mother’s Day 2017, Knit-A-Prayer celebrated its 10-year anniversary. It was founded by Sharon Wainwright, Joyce Spetz, and Karen Wetzel. When Sharon closed a needlework store she had operated for 22 years, she knew she must find something productive to do with her creativity and love of knitting. She mentioned this desire to her friends Joyce and Karen. Joyce knew about the prayer shawl ministry and ordered the book, Knitting Into Mystery: A Guide to the Prayer Shawl Ministry,which taught creating shawls as a way of nurturing one’s own and others’ souls through prayer.  The three women met several times to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance before going to their pastor, the Rev. Richard Thompson, and receiving his blessing to start a ministry.

The three women were amazed at the interest in their proposed endeavor. Within a short period of time, 25 women signed up and committed to bi-monthly meetings. These women were intergenerational ranging from college-aged to mature women in their nineties. Over the last ten years, these women have sent 2,700 shawls and lap robes to people all over the world.

Sharon and her friends began by contacting another prayer ministry in their church known as Prayers and Squares, whose chapter #317 was started in 2005. This ministry, launched by Isabel Carrera, promotes prayer through the use of quilts. The quilters were happy to see their prayer ministry expand to a group who knitted and crocheted.

The quilting ministry originally began in San Diego at another United Methodist church, that sponsored an informal quilting group. A member’s two-year-old grandson, Kody, ended up in a coma following heart surgery; he had little chance for recovery. As the women worked quickly to make a quilt to cover this critically-ill child, they prayed earnestly for him. Against the odds, Kody came out of the coma. As he recovered, his little hands touched and fingered the knots on his quilt. His doctors wrote into his medical chart that the quilt was not to leave his side! The quilt remained with the child through several surgeries, tests, and treatments. It provided comfort and strength for many years. Other patients began to ask about the ministry and soon it had spread to other churches including Bakersfield First UM Church.

The process of making these quilts is saturated in prayer. When a quilt is requested, it is personalized to the recipient on a label and dated. As the women of the quilting ministry piece their quilts and tie in square knots the thread that holds the layers together, they pray for each recipient. After they finish a quilt, it is displayed so that the congregation may come and say a prayer while tying a knot on the quilt.

The same process is true for knitting and crocheting shawls. From the beginning of the project to its completion, the women bathe their work in prayer. Each shawl begins with a prayer for the recipient and their needs even when those needs are unknown. When they knit at home, they pray over their work. Some use a knitting pattern, a simple knit three, purl three that represents the Trinity.

One knitter shared, “In a sense this ministry is a ‘blind ministry.’ When knitting or crocheting a shawl one doesn’t know where it is going, what will be the effect, who will receive it, but God knows.” Another remarked, “There is joy in selecting the colors of yarn for the next shawl as well as the pattern. One can meditate while knitting. It is peaceful in God’s presence.”

Each shawl and blanket is bathed in prayer. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California.

Opportunities to witness and share the love of Christ occur when a knitter has taken her project outside her home and works as she waits for an appointment or meeting. As one knitter explained, “Often an individual will strike up a conversation when they see someone knitting. That opens the door to talk about the prayer shawl ministry and our faith.” When the women gather together at the church, they take time to lay hands on their work and pray out loud in a ritual of prayer. At the completion of each shawl, a card is attached that includes a space for a hand-written prayer.

In their own city of Bakersfield, shawls are sent to several hospice groups and shelters for battered women, abused children, and the homeless. The women provide shawls and support for the Dream Center, a ministry to young adults in foster care who are required to transfer out of the program when they turn eighteen. At the center they are given help finding a permanent place to live, help with writing resumes, and learning how to interview for a job as well as other life skills. 

The Knit-A-Prayer ministry steps into action when disasters of all kinds occur. In 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck northeast of Tokyo; it was the largest ever to hit Japan. The resulting tsunami compounded the damage. Serving at the time were eight missionaries from the United Methodist General Board of Global Missions. The Bakersfield women sent their prayers and shawls to Japan, which were distributed by the missionaries along with other efforts by the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR).

GBGM contact, Claudia Genung-Yamamoto wrote, “These shawls have special meaning and we would like to distribute them through partner groups, especially through the Japanese church women with a message of God’s love shared with both Christian and non-Christians in the Tokyo area.”

Each package is a blessing to those who receive. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California.

Closer to home, last summer these women sent shawls when one of California’s largest fires, the Erskine Fire, killed two people, destroyed 309 homes, and damaged hundreds more. People who lived in the path of the fire were in evacuation centers for weeks. These evacuees were not alone, for the Bakersfield women actively prayed and sent shawls through a long-time member of their church. He just happened to be serving as a local pastor for two of the communities hard hit by the fire.

The women share many stories where they have seen God’s hand on their ministry. One afternoon they received a request for a shawl from a lady in Missouri. She had found Knit-A-Prayer listed on a shawl ministry web site. She requested a shawl for a young adult man, seriously ill in San Diego. The shawl needed to be delivered quickly. Ironically, the daughter of the church’s administrative assistant was returning to San Diego that very afternoon. She took the shawl to the hospital and personally gave it to family members.

Another incident occurred when the women learned of a young girl who had attended VBS at the Bakersfield church. She was seriously ill with cancer. The mother was contacted and said she would appreciate a shawl for her daughter. When it was delivered, the little girl responded by saying, “How did you know that pink was my most favorite color?” She kept the shawl with her constantly through all her treatments until she passed.

Early in the spring of 2017, an adult nephew of a member of the Bakersfield congregation was seriously injured in an automobile accident. He was barely removed from the vehicle before it went up in flames. Doctors were unable to assure the family of his recovery. He was in ICU for a month and had many surgeries. Although he was not a believer in Christ, he kept the prayer lap robe with him constantly. All the prayers that were prayed for his recovery were eventually answered when he walked out of the hospital.

Prayers and Squares and Knit-A-Prayer are not ordinary clubs; they are not an excuse for women to get together for fellowship, although meaningful fellowship occurs; they are not just a creative outlet, although they are that as well. Prayers and Squares and Knit-A-Prayer are two groups of creative, praying Christian women, who like Jesus, are full of compassion; they are women who use their talent to make visible the love of God in the material blessing of a quilt or a shawl. Most of all, they are women who know the power of prayer to love, encourage, honor, heal, and comfort infinitely more than all they ask or imagine.

As Sharon Wainwright attests to the power of God working through the Knit-A-Prayer ministry, “God continues to open doors where we can offer a shawl and prayer. Our original hopes and dreams for this ministry were so small in comparison to where God has directed us. The ‘God winks’ have been many and the blessings numerous beyond measure.”

Now is the Time

“Now is the time of God’s favor, Now is the day of salvation.”

– II Corinthians 6:2

Each year, women come to the national conference of the Celebration Women’s Ministry in Houston seeking to grow in Christ and encounter God’s Spirit. Some seek the assurance of salvation; others need forgiveness or desire to be liberated from sin, past and present; still others seek spiritual, emotional, or physical healing. This past March, women experienced all this and more at the Celebration gathering.

The Celebration leadership team chose their 2018 conference theme from the above cited verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. They were reminded that the people of the Corinthian Church had much in common with the church in America of our day. They too were suffering disunity; sexual immorality was a problem, and difficult challenges were overwhelming the church. In the two letters to the Corinthians, we find some of Paul’s most important theological writing.

Inspired by Paul’s words, “Now is the time of God’s favor – the day of His salvation,” the leadership team delved into the meaning of salvation. They found it to be a comprehensive term that had a depth of meaning beyond the initial decision to believe and be saved from the consequences of sin. Salvation was a word that implied forgiveness, healing, prosperity, deliverance, safety, rescue, liberation, and restoration. It signified everything the leadership team hoped women would experience at their yearly conference.

Readers of Good News will recall the March/April 2017 cover story written by editor Steve Beard about the Spirit-filled revival in the Methodist Church of Cuba. He had visited Cuba with Dr. David Watson, the academic dean at United Theological Seminary, and a team of seminarians. During a conversation after the article came out, Beard encouraged Judy Graham, president of Celebration, to visit the Cuban church or bring the move of the Spirit in Cuba to the women of Celebration. In response, he and Watson put her in touch with Pastor Adria Nuñez Ortiz from Havana.

Pastor Nuñez is the product of a powerful move of God and His Spirit in her country. The people in her Havana community know first-hand the hardship of living with scarce resources such as food and clothing. Although for many decades, freedom to worship publically was not possible, belief in Christ survived. It brought hope and helped the Cuban people rise above their circumstances.

Salvation was the power that healed, allowed those trapped in prostitution, drugs, and other addictions to find freedom, and gave them the ability to forgive and be forgiven. Pastor Nuñez wanted the women of Celebration to know and experience the power of salvation to bring dynamic transformation that enables all women in every culture to find the way that leads to life.

Nuñez told the women to “rise up wisely like Jael, to be virtuous like Mary, to carry hope to those around them like Esther and Ruth, to be full of faith like Hannah, and to be sensible and brave like Deborah.” Each of these Bible women were given exactly what was needed to meet their challenges; each challenge was unique. Nuñez wanted each woman to be as faithful and courageous as Esther, who the Lord had raised up for the challenge of “such a time as this.”

Women receive healing. Photo by Celebration Ministries.

At the close of her message, she issued a call for women who needed physical healing in their bodies and those who needed to receive the Holy Spirit in their soul to come forward. Whether in fire and power or in a sweet gentle presence, the Holy Spirit ministered deeply to the women present at each alter call.

Pastor Jennifer Cowart of Harvest Church in Georgia, the other featured speaker, taught the women how to live out their salvation as chosen women, honored by God; as women who are being made into the image of Christ and exemplifying his characteristics. That calls for honesty, and honest she was. A spirit of conviction fell upon the conference as Cowart got specific about walking in the new nature and refusing to be dominated by the old. She encouraged the women to be more sensitive to the needs of others and grow deeper in their understanding of the love of Christ, allowing his love to flow out to those around them in practical, tangible ways.

For Graham, the entire weekend was in sync with the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit. A highlight for her, however, was getting to pray with a woman for her salvation. This young woman had never received Christ as her Savior; her work had brought her to the last five Celebration conferences, but this year during the prayer time, she ventured on stage and asked Judy to pray with her.

Jen Cowart and Judy Graham. Photo by Celebration Ministries.

Especially important to the conference planning team was issuing an invitation to the women and pastors of the Spanish speaking churches in the Houston area and the broader Texas Conference. The planning team knew it would be exciting for them to hear Pastor Nuñez in their own language. The first evening nine women attended. The next evening more than 35 women attended – in addition to the Rev. Arturo Cadar, the Texas Conference Coordinator of Mission Field Development. After the event, he approached Graham in order to start a Spanish-language Celebration chapter. He had the women leaders in mind to continue the blessing and the move of God’s Spirit.

Before the end of the conference, testimonies began to emerge. Women were reconnected with God, many were awakened to a closer walk with Jesus, a healing presence moved in their midst, some were called into ministry, and others were inspired for mission and service.

“I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit beginning with the time I got my name tag at the registration table,” one young woman testified after attending her first Celebration event. “National Conference has changed me forever! I am a completely new person and excited about seeing God in a new light.”

“On fire” is how Judy Graham described the conference.

As the leadership of the conference began to count the ways God had moved, they gave thanks for all the lives that had been changed. For new and seasoned believers alike, National Conference was a time for each woman to move deeper into her salvation.

The theme, “Now Is The Time,” reminds us that God is at work. He is at work in our individual lives and he is at work in our church. For those who are looking for God, he is there. He is moving all of us into a more profound understanding of our salvation, that we might apprehend all that he has for us.

A Call To Prayer for GC 2019

Team Renew invites you to join this Call to Prayer for General Conference 2019 provided by the Wesleyan Covenant Association of the Texas Annual Conference.You will find a new prayer each day on the Renew Facebook page.

The following is from the Call to Prayer.

John Wesley said, “I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.”

General Conference is fast approaching, demanding the United Methodist Church to make decisions that will define our future as a denomination. (Renew and) the Texas Conference members of the WCA,  want to urge all our members to be in prayer each day of February leading up to and immediately following General Conference.

To make that happen, we are equipping you with a daily scripture and a prayer.

You will find that these prayers have been written around nine themes:

Word/Truth
Faithfulness/Obedience
Wisdom/Spirit
Mission of the Church
Healing of Brokenness
Discipleship
Lordship/Humility
True Unity
Delegates/Bishops

Praying for twenty-seven days (through General Conference and the following day), we will pray each theme three times.

Please make this a part of your regular daily prayer time.

Thank you for your commitment to Christ and our beloved church as we pray our way forward.

Leaning into God’s future for us,