Saturday, June 30, 2007

I'm a Facebook Page

...and I have to admit that it is kind of fun. I have connected with a few friends that I sort of lost track of, which was good. I've uploaded a few pictures, searched around a little bit, written on some people's walls, and basically just tried to figure out what to do and how to do it.

Here's my profile page - click.

Weirdest thing was trying to boil down my life into a list of pertinant facts for display.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Royals Sweep Angels in Anaheim!

If you will indulge me, I would like to take this day's blogging time to just acknowledge this:

The Kansas City Royals just swept a three game series from the (formerly) hottest team in baseball.

On the road, even!

Go Royals!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Unclaiming the Center (Warning: Labels Ahead!)

A pastor friend recently used the term “The Radical Center” to describe himself. He meant that he was not extremely liberal or extremely conservative, and he was saying that he thought most Methodists (and most people, for that matter) are somewhere in the center. The solution to all of the divisiveness in the church, according to him, is to reclaim this center ground, and minimize the extremes of both ends.

Sounds neat, but it doesn’t work for me; I am not in the center, I am liberal. I am an honest-to-God “progressive.” If you are going to label me, label me left wing. Likewise my friends, like Shawn, Jeremy, and Mitch (whom I know personally) and John the Methodist, Joseph, and Larry B. (whom I know virtually) are not in the center, they are conservative. They may not be right wing extremists, but they are definitely "across the aisle" from me. (Before you react: Labels work for descriptive purposes, and yes, I appreciate their inadequacies, but nonetheless I’m using them here to make my point.)

And so, for me, the solution to the divisiveness in the church is not to artificially move to the center purely in order to find common ground. That would not be authentic to who I am, nor to whom any of us are. The solution is to learn how to have conversations with people from all points on the spectrum without needing to pretend like we agree on stuff, when we really don’t. The solution is to learn how to speak openly and honestly with one another, grounded in the love of God, seeking to build one another up in love, and disagreeing about our ideas and beliefs with vigor and integrity, but without beating each other up.

I would like to elevate this idea to the level of denominational doctrine. I would like a General Conference resolution to say that United Methodists do not agree on some things, but we love each other anyway. And further, that we can be United Methodists together without needing to agree about everything. I think I read somewhere that “love does not insist on its own way.” (It may be in the Bible, but since I am a liberal, my Biblical literacy is obviously suspect ;) ) Now, my liberal ideas and beliefs are mine, and I’ll go to bat for them any day, with scripture, tradition, reason, and experience undergirding everything. And I know that Shawn, Jeremy, Mitch, and everyone else will do the same with their ideas and beliefs. And yet somehow we might just manage to love one another in the midst of it all. Imagine that!

Here’s how bad things are: United Methodists even divide ourselves up when we share meals together. The next time you go to a connectional event, pay attention to who goes to lunch with whom. 95% of the time, people with shared theological/political/social perspectives eat together. I know I have been guilty of it in the past. No more! In fact, all of us ought to be able to name at least a handful of friends with whom you disagree and with whom you’ve eaten a meal in the last year. And not for the purpose of hashing out your differences, either – just to share a meal, pure and simple. (Or maybe a cup of coffee. Or, since it’s summer, maybe an ice cream cone or a Grant’s Grasshopper Concrete from Sheridan’s Frozen Custard. Mmmm, minty.) Sorry, where was I?

I think this is partly a generational issue. I really think that younger people have an easier time getting along with each other than our elders do. And so I have hope that in the future, young Methodist clergy will not fall into the “us versus them” pattern our elders set for us. (I was stunned when a liberal clergy member approached me at Annual Conference the morning after my ordination with a list of names and informed me for whom “we” would be voting in the next rounds of General Conference elections.) It is starting NOW with twenty- and thirty-year-old clergy who will intentionally nurture relationships that will, a couple of quadrennia from now, make for a much healthier United Methodist connection than the fractured one we see today.

So I’m not going to claim the radical center, whatever that is, as common ground and pretend to be something I’m not. I’m going to be who I am, strive to become who God wants me to become, and in the meantime somehow manage to love people “in truth and action,” even as we may disagree about any number of things. I believe that we are better when we hang out with more than just like-minded people – better Christians, better Methodists, and just better people.

Who’s with me? (And of course, feel free to disagree!)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Vatican Issues New Commandments

You may have heard that the Vatican recently issued ten commandments for driving.

But a source got its hands on a Vatican memo that reveals some other suggestions. One of my favorites:

Ten Commandments for Baseball Tonight Anchors
—Thou shalt work harder on thy nicknaming skills. Thou shalt not call every Rodriguez in the league "First Initial-Rod."

Click here to read them all!

Monday, June 18, 2007


Saturday evening, an image was imprinted in my mind that is never going to fade.

“Don,” a homeless man who was looking rather worse for the wear, came by the church building just before the Saturday evening service started. The service was being held outside on our patio, and Don strolled up and stood on the sidewalk, kind of looking things over. I walked up to say hello, and saw bruises and cuts around his eyes, deeper than the dirt that covered his face, and noticed his scruffy clothes and the aroma of alcohol and sweat.

“Hello,” I said, “I’m Andy.”

“Hello. Don.” We shook hands.

“Good to meet you, Don. Come on over and have a seat. Church is going to start in a few minutes.”

He hesitated a bit. “Oh … okay.” As we walked to the chairs, he asked, “Do you have a marker I could borrow?”

“Sure, I’ll run in and get you one.” Which I did.

As the service began, I looked over at Don. Sitting in the second row, near the center of the group, he was using the marker from the church to write on a torn piece of cardboard. He was writing, “Homeless. Please help. Vietnam vet.” The image of Don scrawling out his plea for help on that torn piece of cardboard with that borrowed marker in the midst of the worshiping congregation will be with me for a long, long time.

At the end of the sermon Don raised his hand. When I acknowledged him, he told the story of the cuts and bruises around his eyes. A young man, he said, had thrown a bottle at him while he was sleeping in the park. He ended his testimony by saying, “But I forgave him. I gave him to God.”

Don sort of wandered away sometime just before communion was served. When I saw the attendance pad from Saturday night, I saw that he had signed in. In the address column he had written the word “Homeless.”

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Succession - 8 Generations from Asbury

Dig this:

I was ordained by Robert Schnase,
who was ordained by Ernest T. Dixon, Jr.,
who was ordained by Robert N. Brooks,
who was ordained by Edwin H. Hughes,
who was ordained by Cyrus D. Foss,
who was ordained by Edmund S. Janes,
who was ordained by William M'Kendree,
who was ordained by Francis Asbury.

Francis Asbury was ordained by Thomas Coke,
who was ordained by none other than John Wesley.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Champions of What, Now?

I know it's just one game, but let me pause a moment to say this:

Royals - 8

Cardinals - 1

Monday, June 11, 2007

My Three Sermons

I think that I preach basically three sermons.

1) It's God's love, not yours, so share it freely and unconditionally.
2) Go out there and do good stuff to make the world a better place.
3) Don't worry, everything's going to be okay, no matter what happens.

I'm pretty sure that every single sermon I've preached the past seven years is a variation of one of those three.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Annual Conference Wrap-Up (Warning - LRP!)

Other than the ordination service on Saturday night, this year’s Annual Conference left me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. You could say that I have mixed emotions about what happened last weekend. On the one hand, I am so excited about innovation, creative changes, and a renewed focus on outreach and evangelism. But on the other, the astonishing lack of transparency in the process, the insensitivity to those hurt by the changes, and the continued emphasis on numbers – dollars and bodies – rather than on discipleship really disappoints me.

So that you won’t necessarily have to read the entire, long, ranty, post (LRP), I have categorized my larger rant into little mini-rants by topic. Read whichever portions you choose:

1- Money: When the chair of the Finance and Administration Team has to repeat the phrase, “It’s not about the money” a dozen times during his report, you begin to wonder whom exactly he is trying to convince.

2 - Petition Mess: We spent an hour and a half in confused and unorganized debate on a petition that affirmed the definition of marriage that we already have in our Book of Discipline. (Contrast that with a half an hour discussing the 2008 conference budget, which contains in it some huge, radical changes that are going to impact local churches’ disciple-making ministries.) A proud moment in Missouri Methodism it was not.

3 - Pathways Task Force: The speeches from the floor against the two proposed amendments to the budget we actually were allowed opportunity to debate were given exclusively by members of the “Pathways Task Force,” an ad hoc group whose initial task was to envision the future of the Missouri Conference. As they have continued to meet and act, the power assumed by this group has continued to grow, and its work has been done in the shadows from its beginning. One pastor commented, “If the Annual Conference was given a quiz on ‘Pathways,’ we would all flunk.” We have essentially been told, “Pathways knows best; don’t ask questions; just trust us.” Their decisions have spanned areas of budget, apportionment formula, reorganization of conference teams and boards, and changes in conference staffing, in addition to the visioning work that I understood was their initial task. One could argue that this group simply made recommendations that the conference then approved, but I would reply that the conference basically rubber-stamped their work, with little opportunity for open conversation.

4 - Apportionments: In the new apportionment formula, First UMC North KC will be apportioned more than $37,000 for 2008, an increase of more than 11%. That is two and a half months worth of offerings! In the Heartland Central District (the urban Kansas City area) over half of the churches are increasing their apportionments, whereas across the conference around 17% of the churches are increasing, two districts have about 7% of the churches increasing, and one has 5%. Debate on the budget was quickly closed, however (as noted above), before Bishop Schnase glanced my way long enough to notice my card in the air. This is clearly a justice issue, and our rush to approve of the Pathway changes swept it from any chance of honest, transparent conversation.

5 - Insensitivity: In spite of Missouri’s decision to eliminate the Commission on Higher Education and close down most of the Wesley Foundations in our state, there was never any time to honor the ministries and ministers who have served our campuses or the students who felt the calling to ministry there over the years. In fact, the changes were presented in a celebratory attitude that completely neglected the grief the changes are causing so many people. In fact, Higher Ed was not allowed to make any presentation at all, which they discovered only when they inquired a few weeks back as to the length of time allotted them this year. Furthermore, the conference staff position of Director of Communications was eliminated (see Pathways) despite her wonderful work in recent years to facilitate new and innovative communications across the state, and with no offered plan of how communications will be managed in the future. The announcement of these two changes was one of the most poorly handled situations I’ve ever seen.

6 - Just bodies, baby:
We were given the standard “Change or die” spiel by Adam Hamilton: change what we are doing to get more bodies in the pews, or the denomination will die. I respect Rev. Hamilton a bunch, but living by the “change or die” paradigm is a formula for death. How do you spell “Self-fulfilling Prophecy”? I prefer “Change to live a life of faith!” (I have written about this before.)

7a- Young Adults: This is one of the most confusing, unorganized parts of the whole thing for me. First off, two college students made a presentation about a new idea they are calling “MC-Squared” (I have forgotten what the M.C.C. stands for, now.) that is going to be, in a nutshell, a college-aged connection across the conference. The bishop immediately stood up and praised the idea, touting it an emerging thing that has an energy and vitality all its own, and the worst thing we could do was impose structure and hierarchy on it. But later on, we approved conference reorganization plan (read, “rubber stamped a Pathways decision”) that included an entity called the “Young Adults Ministries Council,” which included an imposition of structure and hierarchy. I asked from the floor if “MC-Squared” was the same thing as this “Young Adults Ministries Council,” which no one on the stage could answer, and so they referred to our Conference Youth Coordinator, who said that it was. I then remarked that it sure seemed like we were imposing structure and hierarchy on something that the bishop had just said should not get structure and hierarchy imposed on it. The bishop replied that he would take that as a word of caution and we moved on.
7b - Young Adults on Campus: The budget presented included $920,000 for the Commission on Higher Education and Campus Ministry in 2007 and $400,000 allotted them in 2008. I asked in the budget workshop how was it we were allotting resources to a group that we were disbanding. The next day on the floor, the chair of Finance and Administration instructed us to strike the words “Commission on” from the budget so that the remainder of the $920,000 and the $400,000 would be administered by the newly created (by Pathways) “Center for Congregational Excellence” in the form of the Congregational Development Team, I think. It was almost parenthetically mentioned that this money is to be granted by Congregational Development to congregations with campus ministries in the works.
7c - Young Adults in the Budget - There was another line item allocating $1,500 to a group called the “Commission on Young Adults,” but there is no group named “Commission on Young Adults.” I asked about this at the workshop, and was assured that this was the aforementioned, “Young Adults Ministries Council” aka “MC-Squared,” we think. So it looks like, whereas the Youth Council gets $32,000 next year, the Young Adults Council/Commission/Squared gets a mere $1,500. (There's a priority for you!)

Confused? I sure am, and I know I’m not the only one!

If you have made it to this point in this blog post, give yourself a pat on the back for your diligence and dogged determination. When I read back over this thing, I sound so incredibly cynical! I’m really not. It’s not about being opposed to change, either. There has been so much change at the congregation I serve here in Northtown that one member recently remarked, “It feels like a whole different church around here, and I love it!” I just have questions that I feel like no one is answering, and it is frustrating.

The one thing that I am certain of coming out of Annual Conference, 2007 - I am an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, and a Member in Full Connection of the Missouri Annual Conference. That much, at least, I will most definitely celebrate!

Monday, June 04, 2007


As of June 2, 2007, Andy Bryan is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, and a full member of the Missouri Annual Conference!

I honestly cannot describe the power, emotion, energy, passion, and depth of that evening. I will write more about it later. For now, suffice it to say that it was one of the absolute highlights of my life, just after my wedding day and the birthdays of my children. Surrounded by my family, 40 members of my church who made the trek from North Kansas City to Springfield, dear friends, colleagues of the conference ... wow. Tears started up as soon as I knelt. The hands of my grandfather, my father, Bishops Schnase and Palmer, Reverends Sarah Evans and Steve Campbell laid on my head were heavy - literally and figuratively. Reverend Barry Freese said, as I stood before him to receive the stole, "Here it comes!" And I was ordained.

I'll write more about it, I'm sure, but for now about all I can muster is ... wow.