Call To Prayer

As you read this, delegates from around the world will be making their way to St. Louis for a very important “Special Called Session” of our General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Every 4 years - or “quadrennium”- the world United Methodist body gathers to discuss the ministry of the church and make recommendations on our future. We also have a yearly Annual Conference held for all UMC’s in Middle Tennessee and our local church has a yearly “charge conference” as well.      

   At the last, regular session of the General Conference held in 2016, a decision was made to call a special session to deal with only one issue - an issue that has been a difficult one for us for decades - human sexuality. This has been a contentious issue and many faithful people find themselves with differing opinions.

    At that 2016 General Conference, A Commission of 32 persons was elected (16 clergy and 16 lay) to bring a proposal to this Called Session to be held next week. The Commission, called “The Way Forward”, produced three recommendations for consideration. I have circulated among the adult Sunday School Classes to discuss these options as well as the “Family Meeting” held this past Sunday to help folks understand the options, so I won’t rehash all that here.

    What I am asking today is a Call To Prayer for every member of our congregation Our church has not faced a decision this weighty in a very long time. The delegates that will represent us (again, an equal number of clergy and laity) need our prayers and the help of God for such a time as this. The Conference begins in earnest on Saturday, the 23rd, and lasts for three days.  Would you covenant with me to lift this group of people in prayer each of those days? In addition to all the delegates there, would you offer a special prayer for our own delegation? They are Laity: Jim Allen, Holly Neal, Connie Clark, George Brown and, Clergy: Harriet Bryan, Jacob Armstrong, Stephen Handy and Jackson Henry.

    And now having said all that, let me be clear about one other thing - regardless of the decision made at this General Conference, the United Methodist Church will continue and Belle Meade United Methodist Church will continue to be in ministry with those in our neighborhoods, our larger community, our nation, and our world. John Wesley once said of us “Methodists” that, the best is yet to be. It’s true.



When Dreams Become Reality

Over the course of this month we have been pondering this question: What is God’s dream for my life? For my family? For our church? For our world? As a hopeless idealist, dreams come second nature to me as I consider frequently dreams for our church and especially the children and families of Belle Meade.

One of our greatest dreams in the children’s ministry is that our kids would deeply know and understand that they are loved by Jesus, connected to God and gifted to lead and serve the church and the world. That they would see childhood not as a place to wait and learn so that one day they might be able to lead and serve. Instead they would know it is a time they are already gifted in amazing ways and called to serve God to create change in the church and the world.

childrens christmas eve.jpg

Our Family Christmas Eve service offered a glimpse of that dream becoming reality. We welcomed over 200 people from newborns to great grandparents. The joy in the space was personified by a continual hum of giggles and laughter throughout the worship service. Children of all ages were invited to share their passion and gifts by playing the handbells, singing carols, acting out the nativity story, participating in voice and sign in the communion liturgy and testifying to the light of Christ with glow sticks and candles as we sang silent night. It was a place where our children could be fully themselves and celebrated for every wiggle, giggle, question, song and motion. It was a space where all were invited to share their gifts and energy, where even our youngest ones could lead our church in worship as we celebrated the birth of the Christ child. It was a place where dreams become reality.

I have thought back to this service many times in recent weeks and found myself smiling with joy each time. I have remembered our 4th and 5th graders who assisted in leading the service by shepherding our youngest children and taking point on the liturgy. I have thought about the 3rd grader who asked me if she could move by one of our Kindergarten readers so she could help her with her line if she got stuck during the service. I have thought about the neighborhood visitor who shared that this was the first time she didn’t feel nervous having her 3 year old in worship because she knew it was a space where her child could be herself. I have remembered a moment where dreams were made real.

On February 24th, our children will again have the chance to embrace their gifts and lead our people in worship. They are already eagerly working on creating prayers, liturgies, art pieces, music and the proclamation of the word. They are sharing their energy, ideas and hopes for what the worship service will look like on that day and the ways they will each get to lead and serve. They are dreaming of what it looks like to offer themselves, their gifts and their passion to minister to our congregation and our world.

If there is one thing our children know how to do, it is to dream of greater things! My prayer is that we have the courage to dream with them. To see each worship service as a place where every person is invited to be fully themselves and offer their gifts. My dream is that we would open ourselves as a people to learn from and be led by our children. I hope you will make it a priority to be at worship on February 24th as our children offer their many wonderful gifts to lead us in worship!

Rev. Gracie Dugan

Finding Your Way

On Sunday, we introduced our sermon series for this month: Dare to Dream! If you missed the sermon, you can listen here. We talked about the journey of the wise men as a metaphor for venturing towards our dreams, and we discussed some of the obstacles to dreaming. Maybe you feel too old or too young. Maybe as you’ve gotten older you are more aware of the work it takes to dream — the obligations, the money, the time. Maybe you set your dreams aside to take care of your family. Maybe you are afraid your dreams will seem foolish to others. Maybe you don’t really believe you’re all that special or gifted.

But for one month, we are going to let go of all our hesitations and fears and go all in! For one month, we are going to pray every day: “God, what is your dream for my life?”

find your own way.jpg

In relation to our dreams, I’ve been thinking about the movie Moana. It also speaks of a journey. The young daughter of a chief is called to deliver Maui, a demigod, across the ocean. Moana finds Maui, but needs him to teach her the ancient form of wayfinding, or celestial navigation. Here, as with the wise men, we see another example of what it means to study the sky and let the stars lead us. In this scene from the movie, Maui says this in reference to wayfinding: “It’s seeing where you’re going in your mind … knowing where you are by knowing where you’ve been.” Watch the clip here.

In the same way, we are praying, “God, what is your dream for my life?” so we can see where we are going, so we can have direction and follow where God is leading us. As with wayfinding, who we’ve been and what we’ve encountered informs who we are now. In other words, if you were to map your spiritual journey, could you mark the terrain you’ve traversed that has made you who are? And would looking at all you’ve been through and accomplished with God, help you see where you are now and where God is calling you to go? If you need some help, take some time to follow the exercise below. I would love to see your map, or hear about your journey one-on-one!

Journey to a Dream Exercise

At the top of a blank piece of paper write: “God, what is your dream for my life?

Make a map or timeline of your faith journey over the past 3 months. Mark/Draw on your map 8-10 events/moments including family, school, church, personal moments.

Answer these questions in prayer or in writing on the same page:

Where has my journey felt full of dreaming? Where has my journey felt full of dreading?

If you think of your journey in images, what does it look like at different moments?

i.e. wilderness, open fields, rocks, sunshine, streams.

What does your journey look like spiritually? Are you searching?

full? empty? in-need of something?

What do you want your journey to look like moving forward?

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Sam

We appreciate and notice our Bereavement Team!

Scenes from the Celebration of Life for former Nashville mayor and congressman Richard Fulton on Saturday, December 1. Photo by Larry McCormack/Tennessean

Scenes from the Celebration of Life for former Nashville mayor and congressman Richard Fulton on Saturday, December 1. Photo by Larry McCormack/Tennessean

There are a lot of ways a person can give service to the church. So many of you do so much around here and it often goes under-appreciated. Our church wouldn’t be as strong as it is without you.

Allow me to give an example. We had a big Memorial Service this past Saturday. Former State Legislator, 7-time Congressman and 12 year Mayor of Nashville, Richard Fulton died. We have all known Dick and Sandra to be faithful members of our church. In talking with the family and taking little imagination, we knew this was going to be a large event.

You may not know that we have a Bereavement Team at our church. Whenever a death occurs they are included in the very first email or phone call about that death because the ministry they provide is simply invaluable.

Before the day of the Funeral or Memorial they are already at work with things like ordering flowers, making sure we have a guest registry available, thinking their way through the events of that day and how they can assist.

On the day of the event, the are here early to arrange the space needed and to be sure there is water and light refreshments on hand for our guests. They greet every guest that comes through the door and help them know where to go, show them the way to restrooms, and in general they provide genuine hospitality to every guest that comes through our door. If you are wondering what “evangelism” looks like, it isn’t always going house to house to invite someone to church: it is very often showing hospitality and compassion in a moment when both are greatly needed.

Scenes from the Celebration of Life for former Nashville mayor and congressman Richard Fulton on Saturday, December 1. Photo by Larry McCormack/Tennessean

Scenes from the Celebration of Life for former Nashville mayor and congressman Richard Fulton on Saturday, December 1. Photo by Larry McCormack/Tennessean

On this past Saturday, I just want you to know how proud you would have been to have witnessed the ministry of these friends. Hundreds of persons came through to greet the Fulton family in the lounge and hundreds more attended the service. Everything that needed to happen with our guests was handled with grace and warmth. You would be hard-pressed to not be impressed by their effort.

If I try to call all the names of this team I will undoubtedly forget to name someone and I don’t want to do that. So please allow me to simply say today that their efforts this past Saturday were NOT under-appreciated and they were definitely not unnoticed. Everybody noticed. On behalf of all of us, just let me say thank you to all of you. What you did--and what you do--matters very much.



Be On The Lookout

A few weeks ago a strange thing happened. A woman who lives in our neighborhood was walking her two dogs around in our parking lot. We see her here pretty regularly. On this day she was out at the pumpkin patch. There were some middle school-aged kids out there and one of them ran towards the dogs to play with them. This spooked one of the dogs who broke away from the lady and ran off with its leash dragging behind.

These dogs were clearly very important to this woman and she was frantic that one had run off. Since she drove them to our parking lot for their walk, she was afraid this dog would not be able to find its way home.

In addition, when the dog bolted, it pulled away from her so quickly that she fell and hit her head on one of the pumpkin pallets. She wasn’t hurt badly, but this just added to her anxiety.

What happened next was really something. A small army of church folks and neighbors began a search. We learned that a work crew had seen the dog headed for the railroad tracks so we fanned out and began the search.


We didn’t find the dog that day, but fortunately the search continued and our neighbor was reunited with her pet a couple of days later. As we feared, he had gotten that leash tangled up in some brush and could very well have choked to death had he not been found.

Our neighbor made a point to call the church to tell us how grateful she was for all the help we had given a “stranger”.

What struck me in all this was how many people joined in to help her. The fact is in that moment she was NOT a “stranger” to us--she was our neighbor and our friend and she needed help. That really is what the church is at its best. In our holy scriptures we are mandated over and over to care for the widow and the orphan and the poor and the “alien”, the foreigner, the stranger.

When we talk about “God Sightings”, this is what we are talking about. A commonplace event that, seen through the eyes of faith, becomes a portal where God enters our world. These portals happen everyday around us.

The police often issue what they call a “bolo”--”Be On The Lookout”. I suggest we believers do the same. God is near.



We need more healers

It was a heinous act of cowardice. A man walked into a Jewish synagogue and opened fire on innocent, unarmed men, women and children. He killed eleven and wounded six others. It appears he did this because he thought the Jews were being too welcoming to immigrants. I doubt seriously this man even knew that one of the foundations of the Jewish faith is to welcome the stranger--the alien--because they were also once strangers and aliens For that matter, so were all of us.

My first reaction to such an act is anger. I want this man to pay for what he did.

After the first wave of anger passes, my next reaction is just profound sadness--sadness at what appears to be happening to too many of us. A rage inside that wants a way out and expresses itself in violence.

Just when I begin to feel depressed about it all, I hear this: When the perpetrator of this crime was admitted to the Emergency Room at Allegheny General Hospital, he shouted, “I want to kill all the Jews!”

The doctor and attending nurse who treated him were both Jewish. The hospital’s president belongs to The Tree of Life synagogue where the attack took place. They tended to this man as they would tend to any patient. “We are here to take care of sick people” the doctor said. “You do what you think is right.”

During times like this, when we have a senseless mass murder and pipe bombs being sent to public officials, it is easy to forget that our country, our communities, are filled with good, decent people like that doctor and nurse--people who hate no one and who struggle every day to do what is right--even when it hurts.

There is a concept--a core value--for Jews called “tikkum olam”--it is the duty of all Jews to “repair the world.” Jesus commanded us to make the Kingdom of God a reality--now. Our world is badly in need of repair. Our wounds need tending. We need more healers and less hate.




Taking our Spiritual Growth Seriously

In an article written by Jonathan Merritt for The New York Times, he says if the Christian Church wishes to thrive in the post-Christian age, then we will need to learn all over again how to talk about God and Faith. Because while 70% of Americans still identify as “Christian”, you wouldn’t know it from listening to them.

Merritt quotes Thornton Wilder who, during the Great Depression, said, The revival in religion will be a rhetorical problem--new persuasive words for defaced or degraded ones.” Wilder knew that during times of rapid social change, God-talk is often difficult to muster.

So Merritt undertook a project. He enlisted the Barna Group to conduct a survey of 1000 adults. More than 75% of those adults said they do not have spiritual conversations very often. 20% of them admitted they had not had a spiritual conversation at all in the last year. Only 7% said they spoke of spiritual matters on a regular basis.

But this was the real shocker: Practicing Christians who attended church regularly didn’t fare much better--only 13% of them had a spiritual conversation once a week.

For those of us who practice our faith regularly and truly try to take our spiritual growth seriously, these kinds of trends are confounding. If you think back through the history of the church you can make a case that our growth as a religion was the result of spiritual speech and acts of mercy. Jesus was a “rabbi”--a teacher--who preached and taught constantly. The Apostle Paul spent his adult life traveling from one town to the next telling the story of the Risen Jesus. And every generation since has depended on the spoken Word as the primary vehicle for sharing the faith.

In more modern times, radio and television expanded our capacity to reach people, but it was still through the preached or taught Word that converts were made. And from the 1950s prolific preachers like Billy Graham who, like Paul, traveled from city to city to share the Word made a profound impact on the modern church.

As we consider the future of the church, we must confront the new reality that not everyone speaks “our language”. Words like salvation and redemption and faith now constitute a language barrier for many who have not been raised in the faith or who drifted away from it.

Book cover by Alvin Reid

Book cover by Alvin Reid

Try to imagine having a spiritual conversation with the stranger seated next to you for that three-hour flight. Imagine that person having no understanding of the tenets of Christianity. Could you engage that person in a genuine way? Do you have new words that might replace older ones?

And maybe part of our dilemma is the “misuse” or abuse of some of these great words--like the plastic-smiled evangelist who uses spiritual words as a way of getting more donations for a second jet, or the politician who uses spiritual words only when it benefits an election, or the street preacher who keeps using our language to peddle the fear of a fiery Hell. We risk defaulting our words to them because we’ve stopped talking about them in any other meaningful way.

So maybe for now I’ll offer one possible solution--learning how to tell your “story”. Paul was so effective because he had his own story of conversion to tell. Could you effectively share your own “faith story” with a stranger? Maybe not as dramatic a story as Paul’s, but one that is no less authentic.

We can’t lose our God-talk.



Seek Ye First


Each year around this time our church enters into a time of intentional conversation about our stewardship and our support of the church’s ministries. I want to thank you for your past generosity. I believe strongly that faithfulness in a person shows itself most dramatically in generosity. You have proven time and again that you are generous people.

As we make preparations for the 2019 budget year, it is important for you to know that our goal is $900,000. To achieve this, we would ask you to simply increase your estimate of giving by 10%. If you gave $2000 last year, we are asking you to give $2200. This goal is very reachable and it will allow us to continue the vital mission, worship, and education of our congregation.

How do we use these funds? The single largest expense in any church budget is the personnel, the staff. The staff budget hovers somewhere near 50% of the total. This is true in all churches. And don’t forget that staff represents ministry. As Nancy and Alana lead our music ministry, especially in worship, and when Gracie and Steve lead our children and youth, your money is being well spent. And it is being carefully spent.

The Trustees budget, responsible for buildings and grounds and general operations, is also significant - close to 25% of the total. Of course keeping the building in good condition is what allows us to do ministry. Have you noticed how open we are to our community? There are groups in our building almost every day. Casey and Eddie do a wonderful job attending to these needs. As the building ages we find new challenges to confront. We need your support.

The remaining 25% is for the various ministries of the church, including our apportionments and our local church missions. In the United Methodist Church, we believe that we are stronger when we serve the world together. The apportionments are our way of affecting the nation and the world in ministry as a unified church. The apportionments support, among other things, the 13 United Methodist Seminaries that train our future clergy; they support the 11 historically Black United Methodist colleges across the country; they support Martin Methodist College in Pulaski; they support our conference’s own adoption agency, Miriam’s Promise (founded by our own Horace Bass); they support campus ministry at 7 universities in Middle Tennessee; and they support missionaries all over the world who bring the gospel to faraway lands in the name of United Methodists.

Your gifts also support the local missions of our congregation, like Room in the Inn, Habitat For Humanity, Project Transformation, The West Nashville cluster of schools partnership (H.G. Hill, Hillwood H.S., Gower Elementary), Community Care Fellowship, and the Last Minute School Supply Store. Your support also is used for community outreach and evangelism.

You will hear over the next few weeks more stories of our church’s ministries and you will hear from various voices. Our “campaign” will conclude on Sunday, November 4th. That will be our Commitment Sunday as we also celebrate All Saints Day. We are asking that you make a special effort to be with us on that Sunday and bring your Estimate of Giving Card forward as you receive communion. If you know you cannot be with us that day you can, of course, turn in your card anytime between now and then.

It is very important that each of us participates in the financial support of our church. Please be generous and give what you can. We promise to use those gifts wisely.



The Wonder of the Universe


My computer at the office has Google as it’s primary search engine. When I turn it on I get any number of news stories to click on if I’m interested.

Last week there was a story about the Hubble Deep Field Telescope. I’m not an astrologer, but I’m always fascinated to look at images taken from outer space.

The image I saw was remarkable. It was a photograph shown in the shape of a square. Inside the square was an indicator aimed at a single point of light.  This point of light made up a tiny fraction of the entire photograph. The point of light was an area of space containing some 10,000 galaxies. Let that sink in for a minute.

I’m no astrologer, but I do know that our planet Earth is part of a solar system orbiting a single star we call the Sun. This single star is but one of millions of stars in our galaxy that we call the Milky Way.

Now try getting your head around a single point of light in one photograph filled with such points of light and learning that there are 10,000 galaxies in that tiny dot. And don’t forget, that single, square-shaped photograph is but a fraction of the known universe.

I suppose what I’m getting at is the enormity of the universe we inhabit. And I am frequently perplexed at how any thinking person could see something like the images from the Hubble Deep Space telescope and walk away believing there is no “Mind” behind it all. That somehow our existence and the existence of this enormous universe is a happy accident.

I think the complexities and the mysteries of nature are the surest proof of a Creator. And even more amazing is the idea that--as far as we know so far--our tiny planet is the only one to have life.  

Maybe one day we will discover that there are other places that have life. That would be thrilling. And remembering a really nice line from the movie “Contact” starring Jodie Foster, when asked if she believed there was life elsewhere in the universe by an elementary-aged student she replied, “Well if there isn’t, it seems like an awful waste of space.”



In the Midst of a Crisis

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence on Monday in Conway, South Carolina. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence on Monday in Conway, South Carolina. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

As I write this, Hurricane Florence is sitting on the North Carolina coastline dumping enormous rainfall to go along with serious storm surge. Already as much as 30 inches of rain has fallen and there is more to come. And so far, there are 18 dead. We pray there will be no more.

We are not strangers to epic flooding. None of us will soon forget the flood that swamped Nashville in 2010. Many people were displaced and lost everything. It took months for us to recover. And we might never have recovered had it not been for the army of volunteers that came from all over the country to help.

We proved that we were a strong community that year. Neighbors helped neighbors. Strangers helped strangers. We persevered.

I noticed on the interstate on Friday a number of emergency vehicles and crews headed East toward the coast. They were from large cities and small, rural communities. They mustered all the resources they could to dive into the waters to help.

We need to offer prayers today for the families who have lost loved ones. We need to offer prayers for those who have lost a lifetime’s worth of things--memories. We need to offer special prayers for the ones who are there to help.

Your United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is already on the job. There are few organizations as qualified and prepared to step into these kinds of disasters. They were there days ahead of time, they are there now, and most importantly they will still be there long after most other agencies have left. They will be there to help recover and rebuild.

Sometimes I hear folks ask about our apportionment dollars--what the church does with them--here is one example--we help fund UMCOR. Our dollars help to maintain the infrastructure of UMCOR so that when such an emergency takes place anywhere, we are there on the ground AND we create the avenue for people to send funds to these areas with the assurance that 100% of their donation will be used to help those in need.

If you would like to make a donation to the victims of Hurricane Florence, simply send your check to the church and write Florence victims in the memo line. We will collect these donations and forward them to UMCOR on your behalf.

Continue to pray for the people on the Carolina coast.



The Wonder of Another Day

Tari and I were able to slip away last weekend for a quick anniversary getaway. We’ve been doing that pretty much every year since we got married. Since we don’t have many days, we tend to stay “domestic” in our destinations. I learned in talking with her that Tari and never been to the Florida Keys so we decided on that.

We spent two days in Key West and two days in Key Largo. We were able to see a lot of wildlife in the southern Everglades: alligators, lots of birds, manatees. I was particularly drawn to the manatee--basically the cow of the waters. As these mammals live in the canals, they live in brackish water composed of fresh and saltwater. Manatees are freshwater creatures and I was really intrigued to learn that their numbers are growing now because they have learned how to co-exist with humans. We witnessed a juvenile manatee in a populated area where people were literally pouring bottles of water for the manatee to drink. Maybe we are really all supposed to learn how to co-exist in this way--to assist each other with living.

We visited the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West. While he was a great writer, Hemingway was a complicated and curious man. Among the curiosities was his devotion to a strange gathering of cats. Strange because they all have more toes than they should--a product, I suppose of genetics and inbreeding. A typical cat actually has 18 toes. We saw one cat roaming around Hemingway’s house that had 25 toes. Sort of like a freakish carnival.

Then there are the roosters. I still don’t have the whole story on  them, but roosters are allowed to roam freely throughout Key West. They are protected. And they crow at all hours of the day. If you check into a bed and breakfast like I did many tears ago, you’ll be surprised when the manager gives you a pair of earplugs--until later that night when you attempt to sleep and the “blessed” roosters crow all night. You offer thanks for the earplugs.

Mallory Square Sunset Celebration photo by John W. Penney

Mallory Square Sunset Celebration photo by John W. Penney

The thing I liked best was the Sunset Celebration. If you’ve been to Key West then you know that every night in Mallory Square--the southernmost point in the continental United States--that a crowd gathers to celebrate the setting of the sun. There is music and street performers and all around good vibrations. It’s not a bad idea in my book to stop and take note of the end of another day. I’m pretty sure not everyone in Mallory Square is a person of faith, but it’s a good occasion to offer a word of thanks for the wonder of another day and a hope that the sun will return twelve hours later.

And so Good Lord, we thank you for all of our days. Help us never to take them for granted.