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Part-time pastors claiming more pulpits
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Third in a 10-part series
By Sam Hodges
Sept. 28, 2015 | UMNS

The Rev. Mark Windley (right) prays with parishioner Jada Roarx at Amazing Grace Community of Faith in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

The Rev. Mark Windley (right) prays with parishioner Jada Roarx at Amazing Grace Community of Faith in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

The Rev. Mark Windley works full time and more as sales manager for an industrial supply and services company. When not working, he’s leading Amazing Grace Community of Faith, an African-American United Methodist church plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

Windley preaches. He also sets up chairs and checks the sound system.

The church has grown in worship attendance, but what it’s able to pay Windley doesn’t cover his mortgage payments.

Meanwhile, his workweek, with both jobs, can run to 70 hours.

“My wife would tell you I’m not sane,” Windley said, quickly adding that he feels peace and purpose in ministry.

More and more, The United Methodist Church is turning to part-time licensed local pastors like Windley to lead small churches in the United States.
Trending Local

Read profile of the Rev. Michael Funkhouser, a part-time local pastor and West Virginia’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.
Read the full series about growth of local pastors in The United Methodist Church

Many balance a full-time secular job with church work, and most don’t have a seminary degree. But they often bring workplace skills and a high level of commitment — and they work for less than full-time pastors.

So in a denomination that’s shrinking in the United States, part-time pastors represent a growing category.

“I’m not sure the denomination as a whole has opened their eyes to this,” said retired Bishop Alfred Gwinn, who chaired the 2008-2012 Ministry Study Commission. “We’re very dependent on part-time pastors.”

In Bisbee, Arizona, one of those part-time pastors is the Rev. Michele Kelley, a retiree from investment banking and private investigating who felt a call to ministry and now leads First United Methodist Church in Bisbee and Grace United Methodist Church in nearby Douglas.

“If First Bisbee closed, who would feed the people?” she asked, referring to a food bank she helped the church start in this impoverished area by the Mexico border.

In New Vienna, Ohio, the Rev. Sarah Chapman’s day job is doing social media for Charmin and Puffs, two Procter & Gamble products. For the last five years, she also has been part-time local pastor of New Vienna United Methodist Church.

She’s sure her business skills have helped her as she leads the 150-member rural church.

“I’m a really passionate advocate for bivocationality. I think there needs to be a ton more tentmakers,” Chapman said, referring to the occupation attributed to the Apostle Paul.

The Rev. Mark Windley, pastor of Amazing Grace Community of Faith in Louisville, Ky., is a sales executive and a licensed local pastor in The United Methodist Church.

*Click on the i in the upper left-hand corner above the slideshow to display caption information. To turn captions off, simply click on the caption.
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Feeling the crunch

Most lead pastors continue to be full-time ordained elders who have earned a master of divinity degree at a United Methodist-approved seminary and passed through a provisional member elder phase. They are guaranteed a minimum salary, as well as health insurance, housing, utilities and retirement benefits.

Conferences vary in their minimum salaries, with most around $40,000. But the total package swells with benefits.

“In (the) Western Pennsylvania (Conference), it takes $90,000 to $95,000 for a local church to afford an elder,” said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who leads the conference. “That becomes a pretty expensive item for a local church.”

Meanwhile, The United Methodist Church in the United States has seen a gradual decline overall in membership and attendance. About 78 percent of U.S. churches averaged fewer than 100 in worship in 2013, up from 74 percent a decade earlier, according to the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration.

Many churches that small struggle to afford an elder, even one they might share with another small church, said the Rev. Lovett Weems, director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at United Methodist Wesley Theological Seminary.

Increasingly, those churches get appointed a part-time licensed local pastor, who is trained first in a licensing school, and then begins ministry while pursuing the Course of Study education program that the denomination requires such pastors to complete over 12 years.

Bickerton has seen the trend play out in his conference.

“It becomes inevitable that (small churches) are going to approach us and request a less-than-full-time position,” he said. “Over the last 10 years we have seen a doubling in the number of part-time local pastors.”

Denominational statistics show that from 2010 to 2015 the number of ordained elders and provisional member elders appointed to churches dropped from 15,806 to 14,614.

In that same period, the number of part-time local pastors grew from 4,261 to 5,178. Supply pastors — who typically serve small churches on a fill-in basis and include lay speakers and clergy from other denominations — grew from 1,163 to 1,849.

One factor in declining elder numbers is that retirements have outpaced newcomers. Another relevant statistic is that the overall number of United Methodist churches in the United States has declined, with closings running ahead of church starts.

But Bishop Kenneth Carter of the Florida Conference is among the denominational leaders who have witnessed a shift within the clergy ranks.

“The Florida Conference has historically been a region of larger churches,” Carter said. “And yet in many contexts, the resources of the local church cannot sustain salary and benefit structures of full-time elders.”

The Rev. Bill Masciangelo (right) prepares for a baptism at New Moyock United Methodist Church in Moyock, N.C. As a part-time local pastor, he’s led the church to growth and financial stability. Photo courtesy New Moyock United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Bill Masciangelo (right) prepares for a baptism at New Moyock United Methodist Church in Moyock, N.C. As a part-time local pastor, he’s led the church to growth and financial stability. Photo courtesy New Moyock United Methodist Church.

Cost savings and more

The changing reality can be seen with the Rev. Scott Masters and Asbury United Methodist Church in Chesterfield, New Hampshire.

Masters, an economist for an automotive manufacturer, is the first part-time licensed local pastor to serve Asbury. The church, which averages about 40 in worship, had long shared an elder with one or more other congregations. Asbury pays Masters $14,400 a year, and covers some of his expenses.

“I carry my own insurance, I pay for my own mortgage, and the church walks away in a better position,” he said.

Masters calls balancing two jobs and family life a “mega-challenge,” and notes that he uses a tape recorder to collect sermon ideas while commuting 45 minutes to his secular office.

He believes his church has become more self-reliant, knowing his time is limited; and he believes the savings on his salary has helped Asbury do more outreach ministry.

“We serve close to 10,000 people a year in food ministries,” Masters said. “It’s a small but incredibly busy place.”
The ‘local elder’ option

Currently, local pastors are licensed, not ordained. But some church leaders favor ordaining them as “local elders,” a term that has precedent within Methodism.

Read more»

New Moyock United Methodist Church in Moyock, North Carolina, is another church that’s led by a part-time local pastor after having long had ordained elders.

The church had been down in attendance and teetering financially, to the point that it considered selling its building. But under the Rev. Bill Masciangelo — who became a local pastor after careers in the U.S. Marines and the hospitality industry — regular attendance has doubled to about 110 and finances have stabilized.

“I’m just delighted with the way God’s worked,” Masciangelo said.

Masciangelo estimates he spends five to six hours a day on church work. He gets paid about $35,000, and doesn’t need the church’s help for housing or health insurance. At 70, he’s full of energy, to the point that he teaches kettlebell exercise routines at the YMCA.

The Rev. Gil Wise oversees Masciangelo as superintendent of the North Carolina Conference’s Beacon District, and confirms that the pastor is a bargain for New Moyock United Methodist. But he prefers to emphasize Masciangelo’s accomplishments.

“It’s a totally different church than when he arrived,” Wise said. “It’s grown on every front, including community involvement.”

Wise has other part-time pastors who he says have been an “incredible benefit” to churches. Fellow district superintendents agree that the case for such clergy goes beyond economics.

“This is probably a strong statement, but I would more quickly lose my elders than I would my local pastors,” said the Rev. Michael Estep, superintendent of the West Virginia Conference’s Potomac Highlands District.

Estep’s largely rural district last year had 152 churches but only 24 elders. It makes sense that he would be grateful for part-time local pastors and supply pastors.

But it’s more than that.

“Local pastors may not have a seminary education but many of them come to the ministry as a second career, and they may bring other educational experiences, and certainly their other work experiences,” he said. “They’re also familiar with the communities and the culture that is here.”
Both part-time licensed local pastors and supply pastors are growing categories in The United Methodist Church in the U.S., while elders have been declining in number. Source: GCFA

Both part-time licensed local pastors and supply pastors are growing categories in The United Methodist Church in the U.S., while elders have been declining in number. Data source: GCFA
Concerns about the clergy shift

But the Rev. William Lawrence, dean of Perkins School of Theology, worries about the growing dependence on part-time clergy.

He appreciates their commitment and acknowledges they are needed in many contexts. The United Methodist seminary he leads is a Course of Study site, with Perkins professors teaching classes.

But Lawrence believes Course of Study doesn’t come close to substituting for a master of divinity degree, and notes that many supply pastors don’t get much training at all.

“How are you going to be a serious contributor to discussions about end-of-life or beginning-of-life issues, matters of peace and war, economic and social justice, if you don’t have the educational background?” Lawrence said. “What we’re actually saying is that the people in that local church aren’t that important. … It concerns me enormously.”

The Rev. Jeremy Smith, an elder and blogger on United Methodist issues, is a fan of part-time pastors but notes that they tend not to be involved in conference committee work. As they have grown in number, that has led, in his view, to an erosion of “connectionalism” and less democratic decision-making.

And because they don’t enjoy security of appointment, as elders do, Smith sees them as less likely to be prophetic voices.

“I’m able to speak on issues of controversy,” Smith said. “I don’t worry about losing my job because of that. I think a local pastor may.”

The Rev. Debbie Williams is an X-ray technician and a licensed local pastor in The United Methodist Church.

*Click on the i in the upper left-hand corner above the slideshow to display caption information. To turn captions off, simply click on the caption.
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Per diem pastor

But the Rev. Sky McCracken, superintendent of the Memphis Conference’s Purchase District, is a full-throated defender of part-time pastors, including on the question of depth.

“Some of the best sermons I’ve heard on Wesleyan theology have come from these guys and gals that are part-time clergy,” he said.

McCracken speaks with emotion of the part-time pastors he supervises, including the Rev. John Smithmier, who leads two small churches while working full time as a logistics manager for a company, or the Rev. Debbie Williams, who works nearly full time as a medical X-ray technician, and leads two small churches.

One of McCracken’s favorites is Laura Vincent, a county nurse in rural western Kentucky. She’s a certified lay servant, not a licensed local pastor. But she serves as part-time pastor of Oakton United Methodist Church and Shiloh United Methodist Church — combined membership of about 50 — for $180 a week total.

She’s preaching at both churches nearly every Sunday, driving 80 miles round trip. One of the churches is holding on, but the other has seen growth.

Both “absolutely love her,” McCracken said.

Vincent reciprocates.

“They’ve been so welcoming … The longer I’m there, the more I’m like, `OK, God. This is what you want me to do. Gotcha,'” she said.

Pastor Laura Vincent reads Scripture during worship at Shiloh United Methodist Church near Clinton, Ky. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Pastor Laura Vincent reads Scripture during worship at Shiloh United Methodist Church near Clinton, Ky. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

The Wesleyan way

Church leaders may disagree about whether increasing dependence on part-time pastors is good, but there’s little doubt the trend will intensify.

Weems, of the Lewis Center, notes that baby-boomer elders are continuing to retire at high rates and many more will retire soon, given that 55 percent of active elders are 55 years or older, the highest in denominational history. That, combined with more churches struggling to afford an elder, he thinks will boost part-time pastor numbers further.

The Oklahoma Conference leadership foresees that happening and has created a Bi-vocational Pastors Academy to groom 150 such clergy for small churches. Nearly 250 of the conference’s churches have budgets under $80,000 and can’t afford an elder even if one is available.

Nurse Laura Vincent serves two churches in rural western Kentucky, earning the love and trust of some 50 parishioners between the two congregations.

*Click on the i in the upper left-hand corner above the slideshow to display caption information. To turn captions off, simply click on the caption.
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“We’re trying to find committed, trustworthy laity who are indigenous to the area, who do not see the church as a ‘career,’ but who follow Jesus and have a heart to help others know, love and follow him too,” said the Rev. B. Craig Stinson, director of connectional ministries.

The Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank, a Desert Southwest Conference superintendent and co-author of a book about church leadership, points out that John Wesley made pastors of lay people to spread the Methodist movement in the 18th century.

She thinks that Methodism, going forward, will need many such pastors again.

“It’s our past and our future both,” Escobedo-Frank said.

Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or
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Advent 2015

Greens party December 9..

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Judy Mayhew, Emily Broderick, Marilyn Hollinshead, Kathy Teel, Kim Cottrill, Kathie Carroll, (Pam Goff photographer)

Helen Stratford writes:

Keeping Time

Sunday I was seated on a park bench, beneath the branches of an elm tree, playing the squeeze box.  I had been sitting there for quite a while.  It was that intermediary point between late afternoon and dusk.  The amber street lamps ignited almost imperceptibly. Their soft glow accentuated the golden hues of the autumn foliage.  Topaz chips of glitter.  The skies were smokey and subdued.  The November winds twisted through the yellow leaves that had collected on the pavement.

With a symmetry intelligible only from altitudes, the park consists of a  maze of  concrete walkways, footpaths trimmed with wrought iron gates on either side, lined with benches.  At various points the pathways open into small piazzas, where skateboarders can circle and cruise, fathers can play catch with their sons, lovers can stroll, and pigeons can flock amidst a spray of crumbs. There are notable varieties of elms growing amidst such asphalt expanses, their roots writhing and swirling from the exposed and hardened surface of the earth,  protectively sectored by cobblestone masonry that designate where the ground ended and the concrete began.  Squirrels habitually shimmy up and down the gray bark of the trunks.  Dogs are drawn to sniff  the scent left by the squirrels, and, in summer months, the Hari Krishnas are known to gather beneath one particular elm, the largest in the park and centrally located.  The monks sit cross legged in their orange togas and shaved heads, and chant mantras.  And so to some, it has come to be known as the Hari Krishna tree. It is reputedly the oldest in the park, and serves as a centerpiece, of sorts, the spindle of a circular shaped plaza, the compass needle of a binnacle.  This tree serves to inform many of their bearings.  It is the source, the meeting place, so to speak.  Its branches gracefully extend themselves at great length, sloping and bending, with smooth, soft curves, inclined in all directions.  Its foliage provides shade to those who sit on the partial ellipses of benches situated around the interior parameter of the piazza.  It was on one such bench that  I sat late Sunday afternoon and into the early evening, with my instrument, savoring the unseasonably warm temperatures which combined with the brooding, tempestuous skies.

Barely visible amidst  the leaves at my feet, was a small cigar box i had bought from a neighbor at a sidewalk sale enroute to the park.  A wooden cigar box that she had transformed decades ago into a receptacle for keepsakes and mementos, by cutting and affixing a detail from a well known Modigliani to the topside of its wooden exterior.   Inside too, another well known female figure by the same artist was inserted into the underside of the lid.  It had probably been refashioned in during her college years, when many drank Mateuse and used the bottles as candlestick holders afterward.  Because of the predominate golds and browns,  the box was barely distinguishable from the dry crumpled foliage.

It was growing continuously darker. The skies had gradated from lavender to a deeper shade of amethyst.  The hours advanced like a troop of soldiers marching fearlessly into the frontline of an austere enemy line that awaited ahead.  The winds were recurrent, of varying velocity, sometimes gentle and enduring, other times occurring as sudden blast that seemed to be a torn segment from a greater gale, vanishing as instantly as it arrived.  When such winds passed through, they  swirled through the bed of leaves compiled beneath the elm, air lifting them momentarily and causing them to toss and turn in their suspended state, to flip and flop.  Those that remained on the ground seemed to chase each other in circles and scuttle across the concrete.  Toddlers were often induced to run from their mother’s side, and kick through the accumulating mound, further releasing  the rich and fecund aroma notable to the Fall.

Autumn has its own ominous beauty, calling us back, letting us know another season is coming to its conclusion – and, if only as an innuendo,  preparing us for what’s ahead.

People drew nearer, compelled by the plaintive cry of the music.  From various, directions they deviated temporarily from their course, beckoned by the distant appeal of the intoned melodies.   Combined with the magisterial beauty of the foliage,  the music persuaded many to take a seat , to rest and ponder for a moment.   Slowly  the crowd continued to gather, disparate individuals, who were permitted and persuaded to pause, to observe the richness and slender of the elements occurring about them. The foliage of the trees, the turgid skies, the fragrant aroma which seemed to be intensified by the unlikely threat of rain. Still visible, beyond the parameters of the park,  the soft wash of tenements and brownstones rising above the tree tops – Emitting a certain charm and appeal probably not so different than when Henry James inhabited such an address. Sienna, Rust, and Brown Brick edifices that retained a well kept stateliness, with water towers on their roofs, and onyx fire escapes zig zagging down their facades.

Each time a breeze passed through, a shower of leaves began to flutter from the elm.  It was a majestic, mesmerizing. An umbrella of falling petals.  Butter colored, the disengaged leaves flitted and fluttered, frivolously, in no particular hurry, catching glimpses of light as they descended, to the pavement below. They seemed to flicker, as the underside and topside of the leaves alternatively wavered, revealing the subtle gradation and variation in hue.  Throughout the park, and perhaps throughout the city, all the trees participated in unison.  Munificent showers of supple amber leaves, swept by the momentary tumult and turbulence of the tempest.  There were other varieties of trees as well.  The supple fan shaped leafs of the ginkgo,  the leaflets of the honey locust, and the massive, paw shaped leafs of the Oak, all contributing to the confetti of amber, gold and topaz.  It was stunning and ritualistic.  A moment that pulled everyone out of the confines of their own mentality to behold in unified wonder. It  induced the same awesome sense in all those that beheld with steadfast gaze –  the same feeling as experienced by all who had ever watched in generations past, regardless of the particular landscape or setting.

The descent of an autumn leaf is Iconic in this sense.  And en masse, symphonic.

Old timers could not help but  observe the occurrence and wonder, how many autumns they  had left.  They inhaled the caramel flavored air, smelling of summer’s sweetness slightly toasted in ghee.  Children leapt from their mother’s side to run beneath the cascade, with outstretched arms, kicking through the accumulative mound of leaves.  Mother’s watched from the benches, strollers parked nearby.   Soon, they thought,  it would be time for mittens and sleds, for ice skating on ponds  beneath a vast prairie  the stars.  But perhaps that was their own remembered winters they were envisioning.  For this was new york,  the nostalgic interlude was occurring within an urban landscape.

Strange how the past stencils itself so readily upon our apprehension of the future.

An elderly asian woman bent over from a nearby bench, and picked up a leaf to press between the pages of a volume she held in her lap.

A student wrote copiously in the pages of a composition book.

Lovers sat beside each other hand in hand.

Onlookers, incredulated by the great spectacle,  snapped photographs with their smart phones.

Still others shuddered to think of what waited in the coming weeks.  Leafless and barren, etched against the pallid and anemic skies, the elms would appear  attenuated and arthritic,  as if scrawled and scribbled with charcoal on low grade scraps of a sketch pad. Which is what the drab and dreary skies would be comparable to – cheap rag paper.  Even if propped on an easel, each day could be torn off from the tablet and discarded. Crumpled up and tossed on Avenue B. Temperatures would plummet.  In less than a month’s time, these very same trees would seem so gaunt and haunting.  And even that would only signify the beginning. The bleak passage toward the season of the Undertakers. The morticians and pall bearers whose elongated apparitions still stride along the widened sidewalks in front of the brownstones.  Tall wooden figures in tuxedo jackets and stripe pants, with top hats and walking sticks.

Perhaps it was the knowledge of what waited ahead, that  served to make these moments even more precious.  Increasing the intensity of the offering.  Likely it persuaded some to cling more tightly to the beauty unfolding before them.  To surrender.  To be pliant.

(Completion?  Finality?  Such concepts seem an anathema to the Divine.  God is an unaccomplished artist just setting out, and each day is an awkward clumsy sketch, that will be torn off and begun over. Constantly being altered, edited, modified. Never finished. Never perfect.  Always a work in progress. )

My fingers deftly knitted and crocheted the keys, as reminiscent melodies wheezed out.

The poignancy of the falling leaves compelled something in the depths of each singular heart to dance.  It reached in and invited the soul to tango.  Each interior landscape  was momentarilly transformed into a ballroom,  Roseland, a massive dance hall  in which an often unconuslted aspect of our being was called forth from the shadows and recessitudes to exult.  To be swung around in the rhapsodic embrace of a mysterious and faceless stranger.

The angels are always pleading to be let in.  They scurry amongst us.  Fleeting.  As Vaporous as the el greco clouds that were beginning to assemble overhead.

An ember in the smoldering ashes was stirred.  A glint, a glimmer. A gleam. For some, its always a matter of such a flame is being ignited. Or extinguished.

The skies darkened. A storm of pigeons squabbled. They strutted across the pavement in their red shoes and grey suits, clucking their heads to some unheard rhythm that had nothing to do with the songs i was cranking out.  Individuals seated on the benches eventually rose, drifting off in various directions, though their places were constantly replenished by new wanderers, that had been compelled by the music. Songs known the world over.  The theme from the Godfather. La Vie En Rose. Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  Songs that i had played throughout India, Morocco, South East Asia, Egypt, Europe.  Songs that had angered me rides on elephants in Udaipur,  camel rides across the moon drenched desert sands to the great pyramids.  Songs that had persuaded the old and unwanted indian women, sitting in endless succession along the dusty streets of Delhi, to remove bangles from their wrists and offer them in exchange for another melody.

No, please don’t go, they pleaded in Hindi.  The same appeal as we held toward these final rhapsodic days of the season.

Like the leaves, the songs had a universal appeal.

Beauty  is like that.  It has such traits and attributes.  It is capable of knocking down borders. Slipping through barriers.

Multitudes of men dressed in sheets followeed through Marrakesh singing Hi Lili Hi Lili Hi Lo.  Women in burkas peered out from the corners to watch in fascination.

Had the cigar box been more conspicuous it might have dissuaded many from pausing.  Especially the poor, the elderly, those who might feel guilty not being able to contribute.  Because the box was so submerged, people took no notice.  those who did, approached to thank me, and discreetly dropped a few dollars in before leaving.

It was when i began cranking out Moon River that another shower of butter colored leaves began to descend, prolonged by a breeze that did not want to let up.  The air seemed to suddenly condense and thicken with moisture.  The predicted evening rains were drawing closer. With darkness encroaching,  the glow of the street lamps seemed more vibrant, the chips of amber blazing throughout the park.  Like metallic chips in a painting by Hunterwasser.  Or Klimpt.  The line between dusk and twilight, between day and night, was disputable. The borders were being smudged.  The leaves fell in great multitudes.  Like the flakes of snow that fall when a child’s glass dome is shaken.  I lifted my gaze as my weathered fingers pressed on, and beheld the tree from its underside.  The leaves fell on my shoulders, on my lap, and on the bellows.  They collected in the rim of my hat.  They continued to descend into the innermost depths of my being.  They forced the lips open of an invisible mouth, one hitherto muted, that had remained undisclosed in my own interior darkness.  The beauty tore at the crack that sealed shut those lips. It ripped apart at the seam that confined its secrets.  Unrelentingly it pried.  And as the leaves continued to fall, and my fingers continued to press the succession of notes, while the bellows continued to expand and contract, to heave pendulously and with certain intent, the power of beauty suddenly yanked from the throat of that dark orafice – an apology to the universe.  Yes, suddenly my soul cried out.  It wrenched out a thank you.  The song continued like a moon lit river through the tributaries of the past. Bursting forth, from such unconsummated depths, a tacit and unprecedented gratitude for my childhood.  For growing up in the woods, and having a pond that my foster father had made with his bulldozer in a clearing formed after sawing down a lot of  trees.  There were brooks that tickled through those woods, with moss covered banks and gurgling black waters that fed into the pond. The earth, especially where the truncated stumps had been removed, smelled of anise and sasparilla. Of horehound. Overhead the stars began to glimmer.  The stars in the skies of my memory, and in the skies above tompkins square park, abolishing time. Eradicating the line between the past and the present.

The angels are always waltzing with the phantoms across such borders.  The spirits are entangled in each other’s embrace, dancing amid the casualties and corpses.  The shapeless shadowy adumbrations.

How many leaves had fallen from the elm in the few hours i had played.  Hundreds? Thousands?  Tens of thousands?  How many autumns had i played through.  How many more awaited?   Each a requiem as much as a rendezvous.

The rapture induced by the falling leaf. Multiplied to the square root of poetry.  Some would call it God’s duplicitous sense of mercy.  For it diverted our attention from the branch that was being denuded.  Slowly, incrementally, death was nibbling at each limb, and licking its chops.  Gazing up from beneath the boughs, the heavens became increasingly more visible.Seconds passed.  Minutes.  Hours.  Time marched like an indefatigable  troop of soldiers impervious to the passage that had left so many of us battle weary. The most we could do was trudge. And even that would be with belligerence.


Soon the snow would fall and the branches would be articulated by its accumulation, as would the park benches and the railings of the wrought iron fences. The swing sets of a nearby play ground would creak arthritically in the wind.

Suddenly a mother rose,  lifted her toddler from the pile of leaves, and began dancing with him in her arms.

Dream maker.

Heart breaker.

Helen Stratford

November 8th 2015

Completed November 12th


Bishop’s All Saints letter

Together in Christ

Nov. 1, 2015

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today we observe and celebrate All Saints’ Day! Though we may each define saint differently, I think we can all agree that saints are change-agents or “balcony people.” “Balcony people” are not those members of your congregation who sit in the upper seats! (Or maybe they are; read on).

Consider this definition from a blog I recently read: “A Balcony Person brings people to a higher place – where they can flourish, live freely, pursue their passions, and become better human beings. Balcony People encourage, help, give, serve; they are considerate, enthusiastic & joyful, quick to forgive, good listeners, diligent, compassionate. They make people’s lives better. They also make people better. They know how to encourage others to grow into the best versions of themselves.” Taken from the blog “You Are the One that I Want.”

As we observe All Saints’ Sunday, may we think about the saints in our lives who have been our change-agents and balcony people – those who have gone to their eternal rest since we observed and celebrated All Saints’ Sunday in 2014.

May I share with you four people in my life who have been my change-agents and balcony people, those who have left us in the last few months to enjoy their heavenly home?

First, Padma Punja, who was one of my earliest role models. She opened her house to people of all faiths and backgrounds, rich and poor alike. The youth, lay, clergy, and bishops who visited India always enjoyed her powerful hospitality. Even on our last Mission of Peace Pilgrimage to India, she, along with her son and his family, gave us a gala dinner. She was an inspiration to others through her humility and gracious smile.

Second, Ursula Veigel, the spouse of a missionary from Germany who I knew in my childhood and teenage years. Ursula’s radiating smile and compassionate eyes always spoke to us on our level as children and youth. She taught us how to love and care for the poor.

Third, my Aunt Betsy, a positive thinker who had the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. She always encouraged people to see the goodness in others. I still remember with gratitude her great ability to listen to others and always see the gifts they possessed. I was also touched by her radical hospitality.

Fourth, Bishop Taranath Sagar, a global ecumenical leader and bishop of the Methodist Church in India. Though I only came to know him in this last decade, he amazed me with his ability to speak the truth with a touch of humor. On my visit to India this summer, I enjoyed spending time with him. We engaged in holy conversation with one another without any fear. It was a beautiful visit where I enjoyed his and his wife Padma’s graceful hospitality. Bishop Sagar challenged me to go places I would not have gone on my own, thus enabling me to stretch my imagination and thoughts.

Friends, may I prayerfully encourage you to think about all those who have been your saints – your agents of change, your balcony people?

May we take time to talk about them and share how they influenced and changed us through their lives and their roles as children of God?

May we take time to thank our Creator for each of them and for the gifts, in all shapes and forms, they have given us that continue to make us better people?

May we also take time to write a note of appreciation to those saints who are still living, letting them know how they have influenced us for the better; let them know that we recognize them as our saints, our balcony people.

Interestingly, someone just recently sent me this quote from Albert Schweitzer: “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

May God grant all of us the power and grace to be a change agent or balcony person, rekindling inner spirits in others, filled with the compassionate love of God and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ’s love,
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar


1854 A Folk Opera

1854 is about and inspired by, the Vineyard mid-19th century abolitionist movement .  Come hear about its creation.

On Sunday, August 16th at 4:00 p.m. there will be a presentation regarding a developing folk opera, 1854 . This presentation is meant to give the audience an inside look into how such a piece of musical theatre is developed. A storyboard of sample scenes, plus early musical renderings of two scenes that begin 1854 will be presented. Questions are welcome. This demonstration is meant to benefit the further development of 1854. Afterwards, a free-will offering will be requested.

See the links below to learn more.   Listen to sample here.  Beautiful!