Haiti needs our help


Dear Friends,
Last week, Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 145 mph, smashed through the Caribbean and on to our nation’s coast leaving in its path a wake of death and destruction. Haiti was one of the worst places of damage. The death toll is expected to surpass 1000, with over 95% of structures in the path of the storm totally destroyed. The Haitian people are living outside with little food and no clean water. First responders are already reporting the outbreak of Cholera. We must pray for all those lost and affected, but we can also help.


Yesterday, the Michigan Area Haiti Task Force met to formulate a caring and compassionate response. It is a natural response to want to travel to Haiti to help or send supplies, however, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and all relief agencies are urging us to only send funds at this time. For that reason, I urge our Michigan Area congregations to take an offering this Sunday or a date soon supporting UMCOR’s international relief fund Advance #982450. You can also make individual donations by clicking on the button below.

Once first response needs are met, the Michigan Area Haiti Task Force will announce other ways we can help. Watch our website MichiganUMC.org and Facebook for details. Please continue to pray for the people affected by Hurricane Matthew. Let us also offer gifts of compassion for the people of Haiti.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop David Alan Bard

Photo courtesy Simon Kim via UMNS

After Coming Out Day

I posted the following Facebook message on my personal page yesterday morning.

Good morning! It’s National Coming Out Day. Let’s affirm people who require unbelievable courage just to say out loud who and what they are. And if you are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, intersexual or still looking for your own identity on the list, know that you have a supporter in me.

I realize that not all Christians are in the same place on this one. So I had an email conversation with a generous and kind Christian person from another congregation, who disagrees with me. Let’s acknowledge that email is a poor way to have a conversation. On the other hand, it gives us time to breathe between responses, and that can be helpful. So wherever you are on this, I do encourage time, careful study, and honest self-examination. Some of the things we think we know, we don’t really know. I need to admit that for myself. Here’s my long email from that conversation. It is addressed to someone who believes that the Bible provides a clear and absolute answer about sexuality. If you’re not there, then you may feel that you’re reading another language as you read my email:

First, I have to say that it has taken me a long time and lot of prayer and learning to get to how I think about gender and sexual issues now, from where I used to be [decades ago now]. So I don’t expect anyone else to get to this place in one conversation! I’d be glad to point you to a couple of books that spell this out way better than I can. But here’s the (not very) short version:
1) The Bible is not law for Christians. We don’t, and we shouldn’t, take all the six hundred laws in the Bible and try to follow them all. Christ set us free from the Law. We don’t worry about keeping milk separate from meat, or keeping our wool and cotton separate from each other, and we don’t go to the priest to verify that we’re allowed back into the community. Neither do we own slaves, marry off women to their rapists, or sacrifice cows at the Temple. We don’t require a woman to marry the brother of her dead husband, as in the cases of Ruth and Tamar. Instead, we follow the “Law of Love,” that Jesus taught us. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else we do comes from that.
2) The New Testament isn’t law either, but there are three passages from Paul that are quoted having to do with homosexuality: Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, and 1 Timothy 1:9–10. Jesus didn’t say anything about the subject, as far as we know.
a) The Romans passage is talking about something that Greek writers complained about as well: that married men were so overcome by their sex drives that they went beyond the boundaries of marriage to also have sex with men. The main issue seems to be that their passions are unreasonable and out of control. The secondary issue is that they’re cheating on their wives. In our times, people have decided that these are not important, but that the thing that matters is that their extramarital sex is with men. It may also be that the particular male-male sex that he talks about is not between two consenting adults, but is with young boys, forced into prostitution. That would be wrong for a whole different reason. I don’t believe that’s a direct enough statement about homosexual activity to help us make a rule.
b) The 1 Corinthians passage seems to refer NOT to to all homosexual people, but to two specific kinds of people: homosexual prostitutes (which were common in several ancient religious temples) and those who use those prostitutes. People at that time did not really have a way to talk about two men (or women) who choose to commit to one another as equals. So once again, we don’t have a clear and general statement about what we would today call “gay” or “lesbian.” There are several ways to understand the Greek words of the passage.
c) The 1 Timothy passage is difficult because the Greek word that Paul uses, that is translated as “homosexual” or another word, depending on your translation, is a really rare word. In fact, we have no record of anyone ever using that word before this passage was written. So we don’t really know whether it refers to any man who sleeps with another man, or to someone who abuses boys, or who pays for prostitutes, or who rapes men as a way of showing power (like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah). Some scholars have said that it is a slang word that really refers to ripping people off. We have a similar phrase in English, that I won’t use!
So here’s the short answer: Paul’s letters are not a new Law for Christians. He would be appalled at the idea that we have traded freedom for Law. And even if they were a law, we really don’t have a crystal clear understanding of the words and what he meant by them, to apply them.
3) We know things that people didn’t know back then. For one thing, we know today that some people are born physically different from others. Gay men have genetic differences from straight men. Gay women have genetic differences from straight women. And that means that God made them that way. Knowing that God has made us different, it wouldn’t be right to make us all pretend that we were the same. I am personally persuaded that this is true, and if it is true, then it’s what I have to teach. I have to be careful with the Bible, and not use it to abuse people, the way the Bible has been used to keep women from owning property, to keep whole peoples in slavery, and to wage war. Instead, I have to make sure that when I read the Bible, I always pay attention to the rule of Love that Jesus taught.

I don’t suppose this will persuade you, but I certainly owe you as faithful an answer as I can write on short notice!

The conversation is not over. Here’s another message I wrote last night, a little more concise than the previous one:

I think of Paul, arguing with Peter, saying that the gentiles should be included in the gospel. Peter and the Jerusalem leaders insisted that first they had to follow the Law of the Old Testament. But Paul stuck to his word from God. Include them all, and don’t make them follow the Law, because Christ sets us free. The Church has been filled with arguments from the beginning about who can be included, and what is required of them. I take Paul’s side.

Investing in what future?

A month before the presidential election, you may feel that the world is too crazy and uncertain to even consider something so old-fashioned as a commitment to the church. I believe that this is exactly the time to demonstrate that we trust in someone (God) and something (the church) that will be around much longer than any president.

When Jerusalem was under siege by enemy armies in 587 BCE, everyone knew they were about to lose. So the economy collapsed. Bread prices went through the roof, and property values fell through the floor. When an enemy army is about to overrun us and take us all away to Babylon, what’s the point in any long-term investment?

I arrived in Albion a little over seven years ago, and I heard all about the things that were gone: the foundries, the shops, the restaurants, and of course the property values. It was 2009, and we were only a year out from the worst national economic crisis since 1929. There was plenty of uncertainty going around. In 2016, we can honestly say that Albion survived, America survived, and our church survived as well. Things are not what they were thirty years ago, but things have been worse. We still have plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

In the midst of the siege of Jerusalem, a prophet named Jeremiah received a message from God, in two parts: 1) Jerusalem is going to lose this war, and 2) Buy land (Jeremiah 32). The first part is the short-term reality. Things really are as bad as they look, and maybe worse. But the second part of God’s message is a promise that in the long term, there is hope. It’s worth investing for the long term, because in the future, people and life will return to Jerusalem. Hearing this message from God, Jeremiah did what we would do: he questioned God’s sanity. And God answered (in many more words): I will restore Israel and Jerusalem, so buy the land. Jeremiah did buy a vineyard, and had his friend Baruch bury the deed in the ground.

Seventy years later, when Jeremiah was long buried, the people did come back and rebuild Jerusalem. It’s still there, despite repeated destruction over the centuries. For 180 years, our church has been here, an anchor to the whole community through thick and thin. We’re not buying land; we are staying right where we are, and investing in ministry to the whole community in new and creative ways.


Pastor Jeremy


Joy in the midst

There are three ways to look at the future: with hope, with fear, or with apathy. What’s your default position, and how did you get here? In the early Church, people looked toward the future expecting persecution and martyrdom. Yet strangely enough, they told each other to be excited about it! Does that sound weird to you? They felt positive about persecution and martyrdom that lay ahead for some of them, and they saw past it to a spiritual life with God. In fact, they celebrated the spiritual life they were living with God, not only in the future, but right in the middle of their suffering. On the way to fight animals in the arena or to be burned alive, they sang songs and celebrated that they had the privilege of dying for their faith.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance (James 1:2-3)

I compare myself to their joyful faithfulness, and I see myself falling way short! I complain  (internally) about having to go to a meeting out of town, or about having to do the dishes. I focus on the thing right ahead of me, and turn it into a reason to be unhappy. I do this with things that are entirely unimportant, that will be forgotten in a few minutes. I’m not tied up in a stone cell, waiting to be thrown to lions!


At this point I have to insert a very important disclaimer: many of us face depression, either occasionally or permanently, and this is not something you can be talked out of! The terrible thing about depression is that it physically and chemically cuts off joy before it can get started. There is no persuasion that can mend it, and the last thing I want is for people who suffer depression to feel that I blame you for the debilitating disease.

For everyone else, however, you need to know that joy comes from inside, and not from outside. Inner joy is the difference between hopefulness and despair. Joy comes from a relationship with God, and from seeing beyond the present difficulty to the deeper, longer-lasting joy. It’s a terrible thing that we Christians keep forgetting that simple fact. Instead, we look for any other path to joy, rather than the path of changing our hearts and minds with God’s help. We look for happiness in shopping, drinking, achievement, friends, and work. But if we don’t have happiness before we begin, we won’t find happiness in any of those things. As Peter made clear, great joy is the thing we gain with faith, and even is the salvation off ur souls while we are in this life:

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

October in worship

Ever since most people were farmers, who relied on an annual fall harvest for most of their income, October has been a time when churches talk about giving. Lots of pastors hate talking about money, perhaps because they learned as children that money is private thing, not to be talked about. I learned that as well, but I’ve changed my mind. Money is a measure not only of how much we possess, but also of who we are and what matters to us. So it’s definitely important enough to preach about! I’m not going to spend the weeks of October talking about money, actually: I’m going to talk about the character of faithful people, in five messages:

October 2: Thankful

Psalms 138 and 136 tell stories of God’s goodness and faithfulness, and like many of the Psalms, they do something we’re not all good at doing: they praise God! The beginning of praise is recognizing what God has done that is good and life-bringing, as Paul points out in 1 Thessalonians 1:3-4.

October 9: Generous

Here we are in the most powerful nation, with food always available on the supermarket shelves, and yet we all, to some degree or another, are hoarders, in fear that tomorrow will not provide our daily bread. Is it an irrational fear that stifles our generosity with our time, our money, our love? Or something deeper? Philippians 4:10-20, 2 Corinthians 9:5-12.

October 16: Committed

Colossians 2:6-12 tells us to live in Christ the same we received him–which was with open hearts and a willingness to go all in, serving the God who loves us. Ephesians 2:17-22 describes us as a temple, dedicated and standing firm for God. How are you doing according to these measures?

October 23: Sacrificial

Often it seems as though being a Christian should fit into a couple of hours on Sunday morning. That’s not the biblical picture at all! What have you given up for Christ lately? Galatians 6:14-18; 2 Corinthians 12:8-10; 4:7-11.

October 30: Joyful

Need more joy? Giving is one of the best ways to find joy, in the connections that we make, stretching our lives into others. Romans 15:5-13 is a reminder that a joy-filled life is founded on giving.

October 30th will also be our “Pledge Sunday.” We’ll have a celebration for the day, for all that God does for us. You’ll be receiving a separate letter about that.


It’s the month of buckling down. Noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel, hands to the plow, and all that. That passing madness that was summer will fade from memory in a blur of homework, late lawn-mowing, early raking, and all sorts of responsible things. It’s also a time of new beginnings: not only does school start, but September 16th is the most common birthday in America.

If summer is a time when we get outside and feel the presence of God on a lake or a trail, then fall is the time for seeing how to bring that experience into our ordinary lives. How can we import wonder into our everyday world? How can we bring spiritual refreshment into the stale routine? Clearly lots of spiritual self-help writers have had their own noses to the grindstone, for there are plenty of books out there on everyday spiritual practices.

New practices are great, but I want to caution you against simply adding spiritual practices to your daily to-do list. You need to make room for it first, which probably means letting something else go. And since you are a hands-to-the-plow sort of person, you have a hard time doing that. In fact, you’re so busy that we’re not sure where you found the time to read this far!

So for all you September people, with your shoulders hard against the wheel, the first spiritual discipline I want to suggest is this: quit something. Believe it or not, someone else can handle it. Discover that you are not indispensable. And the second discipline is this: don’t fill up that tiny space in your life with something else–not TV, not games, not socializing: nothing. And then slow down just a bit. Now, if you still need to create time for the important things (prayer, exercise, eating right, for instance), go crazy and quit something else. Don’t feel bad about it. You can tell your friends that this is a spiritual discipline. They’ll get jealous, and wonder where you got the time for something they desperately want. Time with God.


Fasting together

This suggestion was given to me just before the potluck yesterday. Some folks have impeccable timing! Here’s the suggestion: the church should fast together. For those of you not up on your church words, fasting is not eating, on purpose, and for a reason. It is something hardly to be mentioned when we’re not ten yards from the dessert table, and when the pulled pork is ten yards the other direction! What a moment for recognizing the truth, though. We are truly surrounded by food, and our minds revolve around food all the time.


  • “Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth. The vast majority of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished.” (UN World Food Programme)
  • And meanwhile 48.1 million Americans are “food-insecure,” (feedingamerica.org) including too many here in Albion.
  • And meanwhile, our souls are flabby, in need of spiritual exercise. We are spiritually starving even when we are presented with weekly spiritual food, when prayer is always a thought away, when study and meditation are free of charge to anyone. We follow after an incredible tradition of spiritual discipline, from Moses to Ezekiel to Jesus, to Perpetua, Ambrose, Benedict, Francis, Teresa of Avila, Hadewijch, John Wesley, Anna Howard Shaw, and on and on.

We are quick, perhaps too quick, to say that fasting is not for everyone. I am clearly a poor practitioner. But some people should not fast: pregnant women, the infirm, those whose blood pressure or sugar are too low to be safe, or who are suffering with disease that threatens their well-being.

I am doing what the prophet Joel recommended: “Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.”

Fasting is a focal time to cry out to the Lord, and to join our spirits together more profoundly in prayer. We need to run together, and not give ourselves excuses. This fast is not for the benefit of First United Methodist Church: it is for the benefit of God, who receives all the glory. This fast is not only for people of First United Methodist Church: it is for all who hear the call to give ourselves completely to God, to listen and respond.

The tricky thing about beginning a spiritual exercise is a lot like physical exercise: the more we do it, the more positive we get about doing it. What started off seeming like a hard challenge becomes merely our beginning point. When we know that we have come closer to God’s will; when we notice that we have reached a spiritual turning point in our community and our church. I believe that we can begin our spiritual exercise of fasting with two days at a time, every week, fasting until 6 p.m. Some of you will be ready for whole days immediately. We can work our way to wherever God calls us.

I hope you will tell me how it’s going. Report in on your spiritual exercise regimen, and let’s talk about what the Lord is showing us day by day. Let us be a spiritual church!


IMG_1165There’s just something about food, that brings us together. Food never stops being part of our church life.

Women United had another cooking class Monday night, and it always manages to do far more than just teach nutrition and kitchen skills. When people are side by side in the kitchen, a special kind of community happens. Nobody gets left out, and there’s something everyone can do. And then we sit down and eat together.

Bruce Chilton proposed that the really distinctive thing about Jesus’ ministry was that he would eat with people in their homes. He took the chance of a meal to give a special blessing. Gathered together, they discovered the community harmony that makes God smile. To the little man up the tree, Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, I’m eating at your house today!” It turned into a life-changing time for Zacchaeus, and Jesus said, “Today, salvation has come to this house!” He told stories about wedding feasts and dinners where everyone is invited. His first recorded miracle was to keep the party going when the wine ran out! Repeatedly he feeds large crowds of people, and he also gathers with his disciples around food: in the upper room for a Last Supper, on the shore of the lake for grilled fish, and in the homes of those who invited him in. Clearly, Jesus just loved to have people get together and eat! Why else would our most frequent sacrament be to reenact a meal?

Maybe that’s a lot of freight to put on a potluck, but there it is. We’re having one about every month, and Sunday lunchtime is our next one. We usually start a little before noon, because we’re out of worship around 11:20. Show up and feel the joy of getting together. Make God smile.

Move-in weekend

The traffic light is back on across from Wesley Hall. The parking lots are full again. As soon as their rooms are put together, students will be crossing Hannah Street to Baldwin, running in packs past the park, and, of course, desperately trying to find the right group of friends, to last four years. And classes, of course.

We get a pretty good view of this from the church. We’re practically across the street from Wesley, in the great big brick building attached to the college’s own Goodrich Chapel.

Like you, we’d like to make some new friends among all the new folks coming to town this weekend! It’s really not just that we want you to come and worship with us at 10 a.m. on Sundays, though that’d be great. It’s really that we want to be there for you, as you make some big steps in your life. We’ve got people who’ve been there, who’ve seen other students come and go over the years, who know a lot of what you’re going through. We’ve got open-minded people who welcome everyone, who’ll take you out to lunch, who’ll take the time to talk, to be friends and extra family for you. We have acoustic worship, thoughtful discussions, Bible studies, and potlucks (there’s one coming up next Sunday, the 28th, after worship).

You might have left your home town behind for the semester, but this is our home town, and we want to welcome you.

Taking sides?

Oh yeah, everyone’s doing it! Politics is in its full swing for the next eighty days, and we skid toward the end of another presidential election. You’ve probably heard pundits analyzing every play, counting the insults and tactics. What details you’ve heard depends, of course, on where you get your news.

The advantage of politics, like sports, is that now and then we get to call a winner. That event gives everyone a chance to go back in their locker rooms for a day, and wonder what to do differently next time. But most of us will still be on the same sides after the game is over. Most of us had already decided what side we were on before the candidates lined up, before the primaries. Most of us have been on our various sides for a long time. The reason is not that we are persistently foolish. It is that we believe our values matter, and most of our values were established sometime in high school or earlier. And our values differ.

It would be interesting to see how we would vote if we could simply choose between abstract values, instead of dealing with messy personality and stories. How would you choose between education and national security? Between jobs and the environment? This particular election, like the last few, have asked us to choose between two different views of America: it’s getting better, or it’s getting worse. The past was better, or the future is better. Diversity is a path to peace, or a path to destruction. We need to be tough, or we need to be prudent. These differences are profound, reaching into our deep experience and personality. We can’t possibly make rational decisions about such sweeping choices, because our souls resonate with one or the other, and that’s all there is to it.

Starting this week, we start a new series of messages about arguments–six profound, soul-stirring arguments that got to the heart of people long ago, and still haven’t left us alone. We’ll be kicking back into our sermon discussion time following worship, in the conference room. We’ll be taking sides, and identifying where our souls come down among so many choices. Come for the conversation!