Letters to the Editor: Church eager for leadership development


Leadership development is alive and well in the Mississippi Delta. This North Mississippi “hills girl” came away from the flatlands (on a recent) weekend with that thought resonating in her mind. I was invited by the Rev. Beth Miller, pastor of the Rolling Fork UMC, to come into her church and teach basic lay speaking. This is a congregation that averages 45 in attendance at their main worship service, but their commitment to leadership is such that 15 of them gathered in the fellowship hall on Saturday morning to enrich their spiritual skills in order to become more effective leaders. I was impressed with their love for the Lord and his church. Miller is a wonderful leader with a quiet, calming demeanor that is perfect for this congregation. Her foresight could see that the new basic lay speaking course (“Learning and Leading”) is quite the effective leadership training program.

I salute and thank God for Rolling Fork UMC and for it allowing me to be blessed. Their hospitality was outstanding and their pastor did everything possible to assure the school was a success and that neither I, nor the participants would feel their sacrifice of time had been in vain.

As we gathered at the end of our day together, and we were served Holy Communion by Miller as a special way of sending us forth, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.”
Cheryl Denley
Conference Lay Speaking Ministries Table Convener

We feel honored to be the first recipients of the Walter Steven Ridgway Scholarship, whose goal is to help recipients gain an understanding of the Apostles’ Creed, and others, in the context of the church universal and in the specific perspective of our Methodist heritage. This opportunity has given us a new perspective on a very ancient document of the church. This objective led us to Rome and to London where we explored many of the historical sites of the church. 

We used as a foundation of our studies a text by Justo Gonzales, The Apostles’ Creed for Today. Gonzales proposes that the creed was created to give the community of believers an identity. The creed, he writes, is not so much a personal statement of faith as it is a statement of faith of the church through the centuries. The creeds were first written to give definition to a faith that was being challenged by a variety of religions, superstitions, and false teachings about God and Jesus. While the specific challenges have changed in the present age, the modern church still needs to understand its identity.

In a rapidly changing world we are still confronted with a variety of ideas that we as a church need to process in the context of our faith. We continue to see divisions among Christians resulting in a multitude of new denominations. Yet even in the midst of these many denominations that have emerged over the years, the creed still defines a common ground for those who follow Jesus Christ.

Rome, with its rich history, helped us gain a perspective of the early church. We toured many ancient buildings, even from before the time of Christ. It was quite interesting to see how many of the originally pagan temples and buildings were transformed into places of Christian worship. There was a unique blending of the symbols of the secular world with the images of the church. It was a wonderful example of preserving the history without compromising the faith of all who gathered there. While in Rome we had chance to tour the Vatican. We even had the opportunity to hear Pope Benedict give a public address. With Rome being a largely Catholic culture it was obvious to us the many differences between the denominations. And yet while in Rome we were fortunate to attend an ecumenical service at a German Lutheran church where the speaker was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Their theme was unity among Christians. In that service we saw the incarnation of the creeds!

In London we traveled down Aldersgate Street and made our way to Wesley’s Chapel. While not on as grand a scale as what we toured in Rome, our Methodist heritage came alive for us in these places. Here we saw how what the creed gives us as our identity is not just something that we believe but that we live out in our lives every day. This practical approach to a life of faith was central for John Wesley. This is one of the many gifts he passed on to all of us people called Methodist.

In our trip to Rome and to London we met many helpful people who assisted us on our journey, such as the Rev. Dr. Trevor Hoggard, pastor of Ponte Sant’ Angelo Methodist Church, Rome, and the newly appointed liaison between the Vatican and the Methodist Church. We feel these people will be of even more value to those who come after us.

We also would like to thank Dr. and Mrs. J. L. Wofford and those trustees of the Ridgeway Scholarship for making this trip possible. The opportunity to explore abroad those regions of the world that have been so foundational in shaping the faith we claim as Christians, and in particular as Methodist, has been invaluable.
Rev. Mitchell Cochran
& Rev. Stephen Bittick

For those who are committed to the ministry of the church in rural places, there are two things that need your attention. One good and the other not-so-good.

The “not-so-good” is described in a news release from the General Board of Global Ministries that can be found at http://gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=5391. The result of a 7 percent drop in World Service funding, the rural church lost an advocacy office with the combination of the Town and Country Ministries staff position with the urban ministries area into the Rural-Urban Network Office. At this point this move is described as a trial with leadership affirming deep commitment to both ministry areas. Rural and urban folks should watch closely over the next few months to see how this works. Nothing is sure at this time except that loss in either area is not acceptable.

The “good” is the close proximity of a Cooperative Ministries event scheduled in Huntsville, Ala., Oct. 15-17. This event will have some of the church’s most dynamic leaders as resource persons in a broad range of subject areas, rural and urban. Bishop John Schols of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, Bishop Minerva Carcano of the Desert Southwest Conference, General Secretary Dr. Ed Paup of the GBGM, Executive Secretary Diane Johnson of the Rural/Urban Networks and many others will provide the leadership for the event. Information for this event can be found at http://www.gbgm-umc.org/ruralchaplains/AnnualFocus.htm or by e-mail at revg@bellsouth.net or soaringhigh@yahoo.com.

Please consider attending this event and always be in prayer for these ministries that are so vital to the church.
Owen Gordon
Dean, Rural Chaplains Association