Generosity – “S” for Spiritual Deepening

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Through life’s ups and downs, we are either growing or withering away. Whenever we seek to live generously, it puts us on the side of growing. So the “S” in “Generosity” can stand for spiritual deepening.

How does this happen? As we focus on God’s abundant grace in the gift of God’s love in our lives, we become more joyful, regardless of whether we have a little or a lot in material goods. We try to keep growing in our “first fruits giving” – giving the first and the best to God in our time, money, relationships and involvements, and seeking to manage all of these dimensions according to God’s generosity towards us. We want to become more present to God’s Presence in and around us, by joining in worship and in a small group for spiritual growth. We go deeper in our prayer life with God (in whatever form that takes for us), and connect more consciously with one another as a faith community.

Questions naturally pop up in our living. Where do we see and respond to God’s grace? What is our specific mission? How can we embody it in our daily lives? Living generously prompts us to become more intentional in our spiritual disciplines, and more conscious of God at work all around us.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing – It is the gift of God.”  (Ephesians 2:8)

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub

 

Written 7/2013 for Foothills UMC, Rescue, CA

Mission Shares Part 2: The Local-Global Balance

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Okay, so it’s an art keeping local and global ministries in a healthy balance. But paying our Conference Mission Shares helps us hugely on both fronts.

To begin with, Mission Shares help us fight consumerism. Yes, our whole society swims in those waters. But the consumer attitude can seep into our churches – like the view that when we give financially we’re buying the church’s services instead of participating in God’s work. We can see ourselves as recipients, even consumers, and that “if some services are good, more are better.” We can assume that the local church exists to serve us, and “you get what you pay for.”

But regular, intentional participation in our Mission Shares reinforces a different viewpoint: that it’s an honor to participate in God’s work in the world. As we hear how they support life-changing situations, they also give us a sense of hope, knowing that we are actually doing something specific to help transform people’s lives.

For example, Mission Shares empower Congregational Development work in this Conference: not only creating new worshipping faith communities, but also helping existing churches revitalize by reconnecting with their local communities. The “Nu Places for Nu Faces” course prepares members to strengthen new churches, while the Conference Lay Servant Ministry equips United Methodist to be a force for revitalization in their churches by teaching, training and leading in all facets of congregational life.

Second, Mission Shares remind us that we are baptized into the global Church. When we were baptized, it was not into a single congregation or even a particular denomination. It was into the Body of Christ worldwide, beyond all partisan labels. When we pay our Mission Shares we give “a portion meant for others” (hence “Apportionments”) so the whole Body of Christ can heal, grow, and transform this world, both nearby and far away from our front doors.

And third, our Mission Shares help us express our United Methodist vows. The more aware we are of where our money goes and what ministries it empowers, the more we can pray for one another, be present to one another in direct and indirect ways, and offer our monetary gifts, our personal service of involvement, and our witness to the power of the gospel in our lives.

All this presumes that God – the true Sovereign of the universe and Redeemer of our souls – really does transform people’s lives through our connectional giving. If you’re still not sure of that, ask any Yellowstone Conference leader about where they see God changing lives, congregations and communities. Then check out http://www.umcgiving.org to glimpse where our General Conference Apportionments go. Through our Mission Shares, we participate in an exciting local-and-global ministry, spreading out from right outside our door, all the way around the globe!

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 7/2013 for the Yellowstone Conference UM Foundation

Mission Shares and the Local-Global Balance by Betsy Schwarzentraub is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Mission Shares Part 1: Long Arms and Jesus’ Feet

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God doesn’t work just with United Methodists. We can glimpse God’s activity all around us! So why participate in God’s work through our Apportionments, or “Mission Shares”? For starters, it has to do with long arms and Jesus’ feet.

First of all, our Mission Shares really do support mission.  “It’s an amazing thing when people in rural Montana and Wyoming can be part of the things going on in Angola, Cambodia and Mongolia,” says Sally McConnell, our Yellowstone Conference Missions Coordinator.

Yes, our Mission Shares support hundreds of fulltime missionaries here and around the world, but Yellowstone has a special relationship with three of them. We know they’re real people in real situations, and they keep in touch with us. For example, Ken Koome, missionary in eastern Angola, will visit churches in our Conference this September 4 through 16, traveling from Montana to Cody, Wyoming within that time frame. Watch for dates and locations so you can hear him.

The “Mission Inside and Out” event this spring was another great example of bringing our mission connections home.  Jim Gulley, our missionary in Haiti, shared stories about the work being done and affirmed the long history this Conference has with them by providing money and sending mission teams. And local churches brought their contributions, as well. For example, the people from Missoula brought supplies for Family Promise, which helps homeless families, including school and health care supplies.

Second, Mission Shares reach beyond where a single congregation can go. Without our ministry connections, even the most mission-minded congregation only has one arm’s-length for direct, hands-on mission. But thanks to our worldwide network, all kinds of collaborative ministries are taking place, far beyond one congregation’s normal reach.

The Mission Extravaganza at Annual Conference Session this June not only raised a lot of money for Imagine No Malaria, but also raised awareness of human needs and of our great resources when we work together. Imagine No Malaria is an exciting second-mile effort (not part of our Mission Shares) where our denomination has teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others to wipe out malaria around the globe. But this “extra effort” would not be possible if it weren’t for our existing mission network already in place, church-to-church and Conference-to-Conference, across the United States and elsewhere.

Third, Mission Shares put Jesus’ priorities into action. Jesus’ life and ministry embody love of God through love of neighbor. His Risen Presence and ongoing witness urge us to pay particular attention to people on the margins of power. So our Mission Shares have much to teach us about the gospel (what Paul calls “spiritual blessings”), even as we share our material blessings with them.

For example, together we support the Blackfeet United Methodist Parish, by providing the salary for a pastor who serves three congregations on the reservation. The Parish has a strong youth group there, and provides a clothing bank and other community services.

Speaking of youth and young adults, Mission Shares also support Campus Ministries here in our Conference. The students gather not only for worship and fellowship, but also for personal mission. Just this past January, a campus ministry team went to Haiti to help out.

Fourth, Mission Shares help us guard against turning into a club. They sustain people who live and work in our Conference to help us make connections with others. They help us fight against the tendency to become inwardly-focused, and so keep us being the Church, Christ at work in the world.

One of these Conference resources is Sally McConnell, our Conference Missions Coordinator. She keeps churches connected and helps bring them together to brainstorm responses to mission emergencies both nearby and far away. She raises awareness of needs and resources, and coordinates our responses. “It’s not glamorous, but somebody needs to do it,” she says. “There are good things happening all over, but it’s hard to put it all into words.”

So Mission Shares aren’t just a practical way of doing ministry together. They support honest-to-God mission. They give us a whole network of ministries that extend our reach. And they keep us living as the Church, focused on Jesus’ priorities.

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 7/2013 for Yellowstone Conference UM Foundation
Mission Shares: Long Arms and Jesus’ Feet by Betsy Schwarzentraub is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.