Thursday, August 17, 2017

Standing up to oppression and injustice

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I write to you with a heavy heart because I know good people of faith will hear different pieces of news coming out of Charlottesville and come to different conclusions. I believe that conversation is important and hope that we will continue to gain clarity and understanding about these issues.

While in Germany for a Council of Bishop’s meeting several years ago, I toured a concentration camp. Martin Niemöller, clergyperson and Christian theologian, had been imprisoned there for being outspoken about Nazi atrocities against the Jews. The cell where he was in solitary confinement was preserved. Throughout the concentration camp, there were pictures of guards. There were quotes from guards. As I toured the concentration camp, I recognized that artifacts and history were preserved to communicate that while at the time, the behavior of the Nazi’s seemed the right thing to do, it was not normal. It was not moral. It was not how God intended for us to treat one another.

Today, we are facing one of the greatest challenges for our soul and the soul of our Nation. We are facing the normalization of hatred and the continued normalization of racism. You do not find today in Germany statues of Nazis on horseback or proudly marching. I commend the people of Germany who have preserved the horrors of the Holocaust, not idols that look patriotic or victorious.

What we choose to honor normalizes behavior. What we choose to portray as heroic signifies the behaviors our society normalizes. The argument that statues of heroic confederate soldiers are a part of our history is like saying statues of heroic Nazis are a part of history. It does not tell the story that at its heart, the Civil War was based largely on individual rights to preserve an economic system based on enslaving people. When unjust systems and the people who seek to preserve those systems are honored, it signals that injustices and oppression have a place, not only in our history but our present and future.

To say the Nazis, the KKK and other hate groups and the people who stand up against them are similar only emboldens hate groups. The Nazis of Germany and the dissidents who fought against them are not the same.  The Nazis of today’s hate groups are not the same as those who resist and protest hate groups.  To compare as similar people who seek to preserve oppressive systems and injustices with those who seek to oppose them is a comparison that leads to further harm.  One group of people went to Charlottesville with guns, chanting racial hatred against Jews and people of color to promote racism.  The other group responded to oppose them and stand up for injustice.  To call them the same is not normal. There is no moral equivalency between the groups.

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was not people seeking to preserve history, but people who seek to maintain a culture and system of racism and prejudice clashing with those trying to stop racism and prejudice.

What occurred is something that happens to a lesser degree in communities, churches, businesses, schools, organizations, and families all across our nation every day. It is a battle for what is right, what is of God and what kind of people we want to be. Racism in all forms, individual and systematic, is wrong. We can learn from the German people that we should never glorify a hate-filled and oppressive past, but we should help people see its horror, pain and evil so we can all work to prevent it from occurring again. Here in the United States, in our churches, communities and organizations, we should not glorify those who perpetrated or fought to preserve slavery, segregation and racism, but help the entire world see how wrong it was, is, and continues to be. When we don’t act, we allow other voices to normalize hate speech and divisiveness, and the injustice continues.

I also believe we cannot minimize behavior that is wrong by saying, “Oh, that is just the way he talks,” or, “That is just what she does.”  Or, “That is just the way they are.”  If we allow this, we normalize behavior that reinforces racism.

In Martin Niemöller’s cell there is a quote that says:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Let’s all work together to resist injustice, to preserve what is right and to stand up to injustice and oppression in the name of Christ.

Greater New Jersey is a diverse church and we have made important progress.  Let’s keep going.    I invite each of you to have conversations during the next several weeks in your homes, Bible studies, small groups and worship and ask, “What can our family/congregation and individual disciples do to increase understanding about racism? What are the stories Jesus told about how to treat people? How will we listen to and honor the stories of those affected by racism? What will we do to work toward ending racism?”

Keep the faith!


John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey

Philly is Charlottesville March and Rally, hosted by POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

West Virginia Relief

Dear Friends,

On June 23rd West Virginia was hit with a "1000 year" storm. A storm that has wreaked incredible damage throughout the state directly impacting 44 of the state's 55 counties. At least 25 people have lost their lives and more than 1200 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged.
In New Jersey we discovered the strength of our United Methodist connection through UMCOR. Thousands of volunteers poured in from throughout the United States to help New Jersey recover.
Our Bishop, Rev. John Schol, has written, "When people hurt, United Methodists help. After Superstorm Sandy, United Methodists from around the world sent donations for our recovery. One of the first and most generous United Methodist conferences to respond with financial gifts and volunteers was the West Virginia Conference. Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball brought a group of volunteers. I imagine you have already heard about the devastating floods in West Virginia that destroyed thousands of homes and devastated towns. I am also imagining a generous gift from GNJ to assist them in their recovery. They carried our burden in their heart after Sandy and now it is our opportunity to lift them up through our prayers and gifts."
Some of the first UMCOR volunteers who went to West Virginia came from the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. Our people are already helping West Virginia rebuild. When all of the other groups leave a region impacted by terrible storms the United Methodist Church remains through UMCOR or here in NJ through A FUTURE WITH HOPE.
We are taking an ongoing special LOVE OFFERING for the people of West Virginia. Every dollar helps and St. Paul's has a rich history of stepping up in love with dollars and time whenever a need exists. A need exists so please make a contribution (If you can't give in church please send a check of support to St Paul's UMC, 74 Church Street, PO Box 125, West Deptford, NJ 08086 and make sure to designate the check West Virginia relief.).
God Bless,
Pastor Dave

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Prior to Thanksgiving, I sent the following letter to the St. Paul's UMC email list.  Several people have asked that I post it here so it can be referred to, so, here it is:

There are times when events and reactions to events invite opportunities to live into the best of who we are or the worst of who we are.  I have the overwhelming sense that we are upon such a time.  I am often slow to comment on issues about which people may hold deep and profound disagreements, not because I am afraid of conflict, but I refuse to operate within the polarity that so often shapes our thoughts and practices.  Additionally if I am going to speak to the spiritual ramifications of current events I want to be sure that what I say is true to the heart of the Gospel that God has revealed in Christ, and to which we commit ourselves when we claim the name, “Christian.”

The attacks in Paris were just the latest in a long series of terroristic activity happening all around the world, and recently related to the rise of the Islamic state.  Increasingly there is a sense in which the world must respond, and there will likely be continued calls for escalating military action in Syria as a result of this activity.  There is also a related refugee crisis as people caught in the middle of the bloodshed seek an escape.  Two questions present themselves to those of us who seek to follow Christ.  The first is how our relationship with God is shaped by the reality of a world in which terror exists.  The second is how do we bear witness to the Good News of Christ in the midst of a world desperately in need of good news?

With regard to the first question, there are several facts to keep in mind:
·         Prolific violence is as old as humanity.  The Genesis story of Cain killing Abel highlights the reality of human on human violence even within the nuclear family.  Whether or not Cain and Able were historical figures, their story is part of the telling of the situation in which the world finds itself fallen from God.  Violence need not challenge our view of the world, rather it is evidence that we know something about the nature of the world.
·         Terrorism is a method, not a people.  The use of terrorism is not monopolized by middle easterners, nor is it monopolized by non-state rebels.  Terrorism is the using of violence to harness fear for the purpose of affecting political change.  It is by its very nature manipulative and deceptive.  It is a method most often used by small groups who are fighting a perceived enemy that is infinitely larger.  However by harnessing fear through random brutality, terrorists effectively makes themselves appear larger and more prolific than they are.
·         The fact that we live in a dangerous world is long established and acknowledged by God.  The world is not less dangerous for Christians, in fact, Jesus anticipated that his followers would encounter danger.  In the 21st chapter of the Book of John, Jesus said to Peter, “’I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.’ 19 He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.”  It is impossible to live life avoiding all danger and to at the same time follow Christ.  Thus as Christians we must refuse to live in fear even when fear is reasonable.

With regard to the second question, let us consider the following:
·         We cannot be surprised that the world’s news is bad news.  The world’s news is always bad news until it embraces the good news that God sends into it in the person of Jesus Christ.  When we watch the bad news of the world we need to remember that it is not God’s news.  God’s news will be found through the work that God does in the midst of the bad news of our world.
·         God’s good news is for everyone.  Demonizing people who remind us of our greatest fears does not draw them or us any closer to the gospel of Christ.  There were people in the days of Jesus who represented everything that the Jewish people hated and feared.  There was the Canaanite woman who asked for her daughter to be healed.  Jesus acknowledged her relationship to the Jews as an abomination.  She acknowledge the distrust between Jews and Canaanites, but that she believed in him she could find healing and wholeness.  Jesus said to her, “your faith is great” and her daughter was healed.  (Matthew 15: 21-28)  When soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter cut off Malchus’ ear certain that Jesus must be defended and his enemies killed.  Though Malchus was a guard of the high priest and there among the mob to arrest and kill Jesus, Jesus rebuked not Malchus, but Peter, then touched the ear and restored wholeness.  There is very little that is good about that moment.  The mob is driven by evil, Peter is acting in fear, and yet God’s Good News enters through the surprising touch of Jesus who brings wholeness to the one who came to kill him.  (John 18: 10-14).

As you wrestle with current events, as you share with your friends and family your thoughts, reflections, and feelings about where we stand as a nation and as a people—remember to filter all things through your relationship with God.  What does it look like to serve God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength right now?  Don’t fall into the trap of being uninformed and yet having a strong opinion—when this happens, it is often not your opinion, but someone else’s.  Don’t let us be driven by fear and lack of complete understanding.  It is time to study, to pray, to read scripture, to connect to God and explore where God may be.  If you don’t feel you fully understand what is happening in Syria, and who ISIS is—now would be a good time to turn off the cable news network you listen to most often and seek out information from a variety of reliable sources. Then take what you learn to the study of scripture and prayer.  May we as followers of Christ become a breath of fresh air in the midst of a world stagnated by polarity and fear.  Then we will see some good news as God enters in.

Stay strong in faith,

Pastor Eric

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Growing Church

We just recently had our annual church conference, and one of the things we talked about was church growth.

We are at a weekly attendance level of approximately 125, and our District Superintendent shared that that's one of those plateau levels, considered a "barrier" level. It's very difficult to move from 125 to higher attendance.

There's a book by Gary L. McIntosh, Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won't Get You There. The author, president of the Church Growth Network and professor of Christian ministry and leadership at Talbot School of Theology, makes some suggestions to help breach the 125 barrier.
  • Start a Second Worship Service
  • Add Staff
  • Add Classes
  • Expand Facilities
  • Continually Increase Programming
  • Pastor Becomes Administrator rather than Shepherd
  • Delegate Ministry
  • Mobilize Lay People 
  • Streamline the Decision-Making Process
We've already started a second worship service, but some of the other suggestions raise questions, at least in my mind.

Do we want a pastor who's an administrator rather than a shepherd? Who will shepherd our flock?

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lost ?

I live under a lot of different thoughts that help me in my walk. One thought I use to keep me on my toes is to think; if I am walking with Christ then to sin I have to leave His presence. I like to picture myself turning to Christ and saying excuse me but this is more important. The thought of those words leaving my mouth is just absurd, my walk with Jesus is far more important. This has helped me more times than I can count.  

While this thought helps me to detour the smaller offences I might do, it doesn’t stop them all.

I was out shopping with my daughter, it being a busy time of year she knows to stick by me so as not to get lost. We made our way through the department store looking at all the various Christmas items on sale and made a pass up and down at least every isle at least once. Not finding anything we decide to call it a day and make our way to the front exits. On our way out I noticed my daughter stopping to browse a counter of stuff we hadn’t yet explored. I don’t recall what it was that caught her eye but it wasn’t age appropriate for those she was supposed to be shopping for; she was eyeing stuff on her list. I say to her come on sweetie you don’t want to get lost, and I do the I am going to keep walking thing, but this did not detour her from just looking.

I stop and turn and as I am watching her now several feet out of her line of sight, I get this strange urge to tie what she is doing to my behavior. 

When we are making our way walking with the Lord how many times does He have to get our attention? How often are we distracted by the cares of this world and all of it's shiny new things? Have you ever felt the Lord say this isn’t for you keep walking? Have you ever felt Him call you away from something to suddenly having that I am so lost feeling? I never took my eyes off my daughter but if she had turned to not see me she would have panicked. If we know the things that displease God do we have a case against Him when we turn and we don’t see Him? Who lost who?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Presents of God

I  have found the more I walk, the deeper my faith grows I am enjoying the Christmas season even less. Which I find extremely odd, this is a Christian Holiday isn’t it? But I am finding the very thing that drew me toward the Christmas season is now the very thing that drives me away. If the reason for celebrating Christmas is to celebrate the birth of our savior, how will we ever find Him in the blinding festive lights and ton of flashy tinsel? Maybe our savoir can found behind the three wise snowmen?

As this Holiday season comes barreling in with all of its new and improved gaudy wares I prayed to God for a way to reconnect with the true Christmas spirit. I realize a one man war waged against celebrating Christmas isn’t going to go over well, there are many who find joy in Christmas as it is. I mean no one says I have to get swept up in all the big traditional to do’s to truly enjoy this season. As I searched and prayed for meaning behind the joy of the season I think I found it in one word.

Did I do this right, did I buy a big enough turkey, are the lights bright enough, did I remember to say merry Christmas instead of happy Holidays?  Far too much for anyone to be stressed out about.  I think this year I want to concentrate on something much more meaningful. This can be given and received wrapped or unwrapped. It can take on the shape of anything and yet cannot be contained no matter how hard you try. It gives and it gives filling everyone it reaches with unending joy that can last a lifetime. The one and only gift we will ever need the one and only gift you can give to those who thought they had everything. One size fits most; no way this is a gift that fits all. No lines to wait in, no web surfing required no credit card needed. No more wondering did I get the right color or the right size. You won’t even need a gift receipt.

Instead of the usual Holiday rush and fuss to find the perfect Christmas presents I want to give and receive the presence of God. A little over two thousand years ago in the felids of Bethlehem a savoir was born. Wrapped in swaddled clothes lying in a manger a baby was born, the Son of God given to us with the presence of God inside. The only thing you and I will ever need as already been given, all I want for Christmas is the presence of God.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

All are Welcome

I consider myself a pretty easy going kind of person. Live and let live right, but the one thing I don’t like is when I feel forced to take a middle of the road kind of stance. First and foremost the middle of the road is a dangerous place to be even for an opinion. Second in my walk, my learning and growing to be a disciple of Jesus I believe when I can truly effectively reflect Christ in all that I do I won’t have to take a stance against anything. If my stance to is to reflect the truth of Christ like it should be everything else will fall away right.

With that being said churches all around the world are made up of people just like you and I. This is the church this is the steeple open it up and here are the people. You and I both know people are sinful and as such are imperfect. I want to say I have never been a part of anything that would be akin to barring anybody from entering our church. Clean unclean rich or poor never have I sat and pondered out loud how best to rid our churches of the unsaved.

I am not naïve I know people can be very unwelcoming over particular views and opinions. There are churches that preach hurtful sermons but those kind of churches run by those kind of people are far and few between. That is not the status quo for the churches I attend or would be privy to. That isn’t what I signed up for, did you? Was I absent the day we passed out pitchforks?  

So why is it every time I turn on the television or scroll across a couple newsites I see one community after another lighting their torches banging on church doors for us to let them in? Have you checked the door, we don’t have bouncers. Who’s barring anyone? 
The church is becoming more progressive than I can stomach at times and yet the torches are still lit. People are still beating upon their chest and trying to kick in our doors as if they were locked. Given I have never seen anyone ever being turned away, do you really think all this commotion is for us to be more accommodating or could it be they are more interested in you coming out? Are the crowds gathered before the church wanting in like they say, or are they simply waiting for us to close our doors?