Flying the UMC Trapeze

I have been thinking about this in-between time of being the Columbia District Superintendent and the new senior pastor of St. John’s UMC, Aiken. At 12:01 on this coming Wednesday it will be official, but I have already been flying the trapeze by attempting to let go of one bar to grab the other one. We have already moved into a house in Aiken. We have eaten in some great local restaurants, walked the streets, and met great new people both in the community and in the church. I have been acclimating myself to new surroundings while driving back to Columbia to fulfill my last days as DS – attempting to live in two worlds.

Jim Elliott, deceased missionary, was absolutely correct when he said, “Wherever you are, be all there!” I can’t reach out and be fully the pastor that St. John’s needs unless I let go of the other trapeze bar, and I surely don’t want to get caught hanging in the middle between the old and new. Flying the trapeze with one hand grasping one bar while the other hand is clenching the other is untenable. How many of us have found ourselves caught in similar circumstances between jobs, relationships, or situations? We catch ourselves wondering if we should risk a new thing or hold onto the familiar. One has to let go and be all there, wherever the “there” is.

As preachers move this next week there is going to be a lot of anxiety. There will be anxiety for churches and for clergy, and fear can be paralyzing. One church sign was frighteningly near the truth in this appointment transition time for churches and clergy: “Don’t let worry kill you, let the church help!” It’s almost not funny! For pastors and church members caught in pastoral transition, worry and church can often go hand in hand. What do we do with our worries? Do we bury them, or let them bury us? Do we have enough faith to take risks for God? Are we ready to move into God’s new opportunities for us? Are we ready to let go of the former things and embrace the new?

One day in July, a farmer sat in front of his shack, smoking a corncob pipe. Along came a stranger who asked, “How’s your cotton coming?” “Ain’t got none,” was the answer as he continued, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid of the boll weevil.” The visitor then asked, “Well, how’s your corn?” The farmer replied, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid o’ drought.” The visitor continued his line of questioning, “How about potatoes?” The reply was familiar, “Ain’t got none. Scairt o’ tater bugs.” The stranger finally asked, “Well, what did you plant?” “Nothin’,” answered the farmer. “I just played it safe.”

Playing it safe can be downright disastrous. Divine motivation demands our willingness to go out on a limb. Fear has to be defeated. Some of us anticipate the worst and don’t try anything. God wants us to put on our wave-walking shoes and get out of the boat of our comfort zone. I know that we all fear the unknown. I like routine as well as the next person. I’m infamous for ordering the same dish in restaurants. It’s simple really. I don’t want to be disappointed, but if I’m not willing to try something new, think what delights I’ve missed.

When a person fears the worst will happen, their own thoughts may help bring it about. Someone once wrote, “Fear is the wrong use of the imagination. It is anticipating the worst, not the best that can happen.” The story has been told about a salesman who had a flat tire while driving on a lonely country road one dark and rainy night. He opened the trunk and discovered that he didn’t have a lug wrench. He looked around and could barely see a light coming from a farmhouse. With relief in mind, he started walking through the driving rain toward the house.

The salesman began to think all kinds of thoughts. He thought, for instance, that the farmer would surely have a lug wrench that he could borrow. Next he thought about how late at night it was, and, of course, the farmer would be asleep in his warm dry bed. Maybe he wouldn’t answer the door. And even if he did, he’d be angry at being awakened in the middle of the night. And so on and on his thoughts went as he was walking to the farmhouse. Being soaking wet didn’t help his thought process, either.

He pondered that even if the farmer did answer the door, he would probably shout some rude vulgarity at him. This thought made the salesman mad. After all, what right did the farmer have to refuse him the loan of a simple lug wrench? He was stranded in the middle of nowhere soaked to the skin, and the farmer was a selfish clod! Fuming, the salesman finally reached the house and banged hard on the door. A light went on inside, and a window opened above. A voice called out, “Who is it?” His face white with anger, the salesman called out, “You know darn well who it is. It’s me! And you can keep your blasted lug wrench. I wouldn’t borrow it now if you had the last one on earth!” Anticipating the worst can become self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to give God a chance and stop worrying!

I hereby covenant to take a risk by trusting in God’s unfailing providence. Because God always provides, I am going to take flight on the trapeze bar of United Methodist itinerancy. I will not be caught in the middle, but will risk letting go of the past and embrace the glorious future called St. John’s UMC, Aiken! What risks are you willing to take on God’s trapeze?

In a Tizzy or Trusting


I just saw a sign riding down a Columbia street in front of a United Methodist Church. It said: “Sermon Waiting For God.” There wasn’t a colon between “Sermon” and “Waiting,” and I found it either an intriguing title or an accidental conundrum. I hope every sermon that I preach or any preacher preaches, for that matter, is “Waiting for God.”
It’s a fact that I have preached more than a few where I didn’t wait on God long enough and should have gone into the pulpit Quaker-style and waited for a Word from the Lord. But, oh no, I have usually thrown something together in my own strength or perceived ability, and then I wonder why God didn’t show up. I didn’t wait long enough.
The rhythms of life are all about waiting, pausing, taking a deep breath. As I write this, however, I know that sometime today I am going to get a phone call that was set up yesterday and is extremely important. Here’s the deal. It was MUCH more important yesterday when it was set up. Part of me was very anxious, a bit angry, more than a little bit hurt, and flumoxed a lot. Here’s the deal 15 hours later: Big deal, whup, whup!
If I trust the Lord who is as perennial as the tide and as solid as a mountain range, then what’s up with worrying and freaking out? Two sayings come to mind that I must choose between: “Don’t let worry kill you, let the Church help!” and “Worry is like being in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere!” So let the church kill me, or be still. Two choices. I hope that I make the right one when the phone call comes.

Support Systems


I’m tired today – too many meetings, the usual District Superintendent quota of fires that have to be put out, and a sheer burden for our churches, and the world. For whatever reason, I’m really feeling it today. I have a support system: my family, the Cabinet, friends. I need reassurance that God is here, too.
What helped today was remembering Sir Christopher Wren. He rebuilt much of London after the Great Fire of 1666. Over fifty churches are a part of his architectural legacy. They include many graceful styles.
For instance, one of his most striking designs was of St. Paul’s Cathedral in downtown London, the church immortalized in WWII newsreels. There’s even a shot of its dome at the beginning of the new Harry Potter movie. Wren’s design of St. Paul’s established him as the world’s leading architect. Unfortunately, that fame led jealous rivals to criticize his work even more. When Christopher Wren designed St. Paul’s he created a massive dome supported by a single column. The uproar was predictable, “Surely this church will crumble! He must add additional supports.”
But Wren held firm. He was confident in his work, but it was one of the few battles that this genius would lose. Amid tremendous political intrigue, the prominent designer was forced to add two more columns to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The controversy faded and was forgotten. Half a century later the dome needed repainting, so workmen assembled scaffolds. Were they ever surprised! The two added columns were never connected to the roof. Short by two feet, but close enough not to be detected from the floor, they served as a decoration or adornment for appearance only.
Wren had the last word. His ability and the completed project were both vindicated. Just one support was enough to bear all that weight. There is only One support that the rest of us need, too – Jesus. I hear the words in my ears, “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand…”