Dan Barrett's God Sighting: My Inclusive Church

My Church … is inclusive.  Not just with age, race, what high school you went to, or where you live today, but also sexual orientation.

My Church … for many years, far before I became a member 14 years ago, has welcomed and continues to welcome the whole LGBTQIA community: that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, plus questioning, intersex, and asexual.  Thus, people with non-mainstream sexual orientation or gender identity, including me.  

My Church… had very open discussions this past year on sexual orientation in UUMC.  There were “What does the bible say about homosexuality?” discussions, a blog on our website, plus a full church meeting.

My Church … Next Sunday, will vote on joining the “Reconciling Ministries Network” in the United Methodist Church.  Thus, a majority of those members present at the meeting will decide if UUMC “wants to mobilize United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love." All Reconciling churches must have a Welcome Statement that openly shows this inclusion and thus….  

My Church … will first vote next Sunday on whether to adopt a UUMC-specific, welcome statement:  

We invite people of all ages, races, cultures, gender identities, and sexual orientations to be you, be loved, and belong.

My Church … will be voting without me present because I will be on a long-scheduled trip.  But, I am sure that you will attend the church meeting after next Sunday’s worship and cast a resounding “Yes” and hopefully a unanimous approval for me and many others that are in the LGBTQIA community and your UUMC community.  

My Church … would again be a true God sighting.  

Rich Wymore's God Sighting

My God Sighting is the 39 persons, most of them from my church, who have contributed $5,300 to the U-City Microcredit Club. I wish Tom Mitchell could have been here this morning because he is the person who organized this club in 2009. He patterned after a club started by Jaimie Wagner from our church at John Burrough School.

For those of you who don’t know, we make small loan to persons around the world who have no, or limited access to, credit. We do that through KIVA, which is computerized system that finds persons with credit needs and makes them available to persons with money to lend. So, we have taken that $5,300 fund and, as of our last meeting, made slightly more than $40,000 in loans, which means that, for every dollar contributed, we have loaned $7.25.

How do we do that? As loans are paid off, the money flows back into our KIVA account and we loan it right back out again.

This morning I want to tell you about Akbari. Akbari is 47 years old, married with 4 children, and she lives in Multan, Pakistan. I just want to point out here that the average annual income in Pakistan is $4,300. Her husband works as a driver but is not able to make enough money to support the family. So 15 years ago, Akbari turned her skills in making papar (a dessert similar to a crepe) into a business. She makes the papar in her home and sells it fresh right there. But she was never able to make much money at it because she could not afford to buy the materials in large enough quantities to make enough papar to satisfy her customers’ needs.

And then she discovered Brac, which is a non-government agency that loans money to small businesses that have no other access to it. They are able to do that because of KIVA, who will offer the loan to anyone with an account. So Brac made her the loan and then offered it on KIVA. We liked the loan and loaned $100 toward it.

So she was able to borrow 432 rupees ($400), so she could buy the white flour, salt, and oil that she needs to produce enough papar to fill the demands of her customers every day. She will pay that back in 12 monthly installments, beginning in September. This is the 4th time she has done this, and she now has a very successful business.

Now this loan is no different from any other loan that we have made from any other loan that we have made in 77 countries around the world except for one thing: this is loan number 500.

We think this is a real milestone and just want to thank all of you who have participated in this mission. And for those of you who have not but would like to donate, our minimum contribution is $25. It is a donation and so is tax deductible. It gives you the opportunity to attend our meetings and participate in the loan-making process. And you also get reports of the loans we have made. If you think that is a worthy cause, contact me and I will tell you how to make it happen. Thank you.

August Microcredit Club Update

The U-City Microcredit club met virtually on July 27, 2017 to make 7 loans in the amount of $625 and reach two significant milestones .  The two milestones were 500 loans made and $40,000 in loans made.

Here are the loans:

Akbari is 47 years old, married with four children and lives in Multan, Pakistan.  Her husband is a driver but is not able to make enough to support the family.  As a result, 15 years ago Akbari started making papar (a dessert similiar to a crepe) at home, where she also sells it, warm and fresh.  She is borrowing 432 rupees ($400) to purchase the white flour, oil, salt, etc. she needs to fill her customers' requests.  She will pay the loan back over 12 months, beginning in September.  We loaned $100.  

This was loan number 500.

Christhian Israel is 20 years old and lives with his parents in Tulcan, Ecuador.  He is friendly, sociable, and enterprising. Because of the low income of his family, he started a business selling Polish oats (keselifsa), a nutritional drink.  He is well received by his customers and his business has become successful.  He is borrowing $1500 to purchase more Polish oats in order to keep the good concentrated flavor of the product fresh.  He will pay the loan back over 16 months, beginning in October.  We loaned $100.

The Djiriwa-Yana Group is 12 ladies who live in Diallassagou, Mali.  They are borrowing $2,675 to be paid back in one balloon payment in March, 2018.  Toumata is a member of the group.  She is 60 years old, married to a farmer, and has six children.  She has sold sheep for 20 years.  She buys the lambs at one of the markets, feeds them for several month,s and then sells them.  She will use her portion of the loan to buy more lambs.  We loaned $50.

The Luz Y Vida Group (Light and Life) is comprised of 14 women who live in Caaguazu, Paraguay.  They are all part of a program developed by Fundacion Paraguay called "Poverty Stoplight."  A stoplight measurement tool is used to help borrowers self-identify the type of poverty that affects them the most (lack of income, lack of financial opportunities, poor living conditions, etc.).  They rate 50 areas of their life as green (not poor), yellow (poor), and red (extremely poor).  

Then together with their adviser/loan officer, they develop a plan to resolve yellow and red indicators. The group is borrowing $3,050, which they will repay over 6 months, beginning in September. Alba is a member of the group.  She is a street vendor and sells fruit.  She will use her portion of the loan to purchase a wider variety of fruits.  With this loan of$100, we have now loaned $40,000.

The Las Gaviotas Central Group is made up of 8 women who live in LaPaz, Bolivia.  The group is run by a Board of Directors and Adela is the president.  They are borrowing $6,150 to be repaid in 10 months, beginning in September.  Adela purchases vegetables from the wholesalers and sells them from her stand.  Her portion of the loan will be used to buy more vegetables.  We loaned $100.

The Flor De Primavera Group is 4 women who live in Diadema, Brazil.  They are borrowing $2,550to be repaid in 6 months, beginning in September.  Apercecide is the leader of the group.  She has been selling home products for 4 years.  She began selling door-to-door but has now grown her business enough to have her own site.  She will use her portion of the loan to purchase household appliances and accessories for the bedroom and bathroom to sell. We loaned $100.

Madee is a hardworking, responsibleperson who has a small clothing store in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic.  She started her business several years ago only selling clothing.  Over time, she has expanded her business to include fashion accessories and other merchandise.  She is borrowing $650 to purchase additional merchandise for her store.  The loan will be repaid in 6 months, beginning in October.  This is her 16th loan. We loaned $75.

So, there you have it.  500 loans for $40,000 in 77 countries with a default rate of 1.6%.

If you wish to contribute additional funds to this mission, go to our website and follow the instructions.

What does it mean to be a Follower of Jesus? by Tom Mitchell

Submitted by Tom Mitchell for the Discipleship Team

Short answer: Paying attention to Jesus and living our lives in accordance with Jesus.

This will mean different things to different people, but there are some commonalities the Christian tradition has found over the centuries.

First, Jesus calls us, not vice versa.  Jesus offered a challenge to nearly everyone he met. Following Jesus is far from being without cost.  Jesus’ call does not presuppose one holds to a creed or “right doctrine.”

Our opportunity is to respond and to consider the cost

Second, to follow Jesus today, we need to know about Jesus.   Examination of the Gospels (and to see them in context and with the rest of the Bible) is essential.

Third, Jesus journeyed about and engaged with both insiders and outsiders in society.   We are called to love our neighbor, and draw a very wide circle to comprise our neighbors.  We are called out into our community and the world, to engage, and serve.

Fourth, Jesus challenged the inequities and hypocrisy in society.  Likewise we are called to work for justice.

Fifth, Jesus did not propose to do this alone, but gathered a loving fellowship, for mutual support and for instruction.  We are called to do likewise.  Often our loving fellowship is called “church.”

Sixth, following Jesus is a life journey, not a goal to be attained.  We will not all follow the same paths, though there will be some commonality in our journeys.   

Nevertheless, the process is one of growth.  There will always be Next Steps.

Discipleship Paths at University UMC

We endeavor to grow in following Jesus through various opportunities:

  •     Education and learning
  •     Listening / spiritual development / prayer and meditation
  •     Service in the local community and wider and within the church
  •     Fellowship and mutual support
  •     Generosity

The Discipleship Team supports these endeavors through

  •     The LOGOS Class on Sunday mornings at 9:30 AM
  •     Offering small discussion group opportunities
  •     Offering a guided Path to begin Next Steps in spiritual growth

The Path a process of individual and corporate growth.  We will not accomplish all things at all times; nor will we all follow the same paths.

The ideas of a “path” and “next steps” are concepts that help us always grow in our following, but in a way that focuses us in a fruitful and realistic manner.  We work intentionally on developing in one or two ways at a time.

Our paths will vary; our paths may often cross.  Following Jesus is a journey, not a destination.

A Discipleship Path of Next Steps at University UMC

You may engage in from various starting points.  This includes participating in a Be You. Be Loved. Belong class, a small group experience, or directly enter into it.

We each have various talents: something we are good at. We have various interests: things we enjoy and desire to do.  We also are given gifts by God, to be employed in God’s and Jesus’s work here and now on earth.

Following Jesus entails paying close attention to our gifts.  Perhaps those follow our interests and talents but sometimes not.

On the Path, you will work on recognizing your gifts.

You then consider what it means to continue to grow in relationship to the UUMC community, and you meet with a coach who is familiar with paths to following Jesus and in particular with the opportunities particular to UUMC and our time and place.

You will discuss your gifts and passions for growth with the coach and select next steps for yourself.  You will be given a personal introduction to the appropriate person at UUMC who can help you move forward with your choices.

For many, this will mean Next Steps commitments to

  • Actively attend worship
  • Connect with others in a group for friendship and support
  • Serve in a UUMC ministry, an outside volunteering opportunity, or within the church
  • Pay attention to God and Jesus through prayer, other spiritual work, and/or learning opportunities

In some cases you can combine two or more of these things in one activity.

A fun part of the process in the coaching interview is creation of a small poster for each participant, sharing about themselves and their spiritual growth steps, with a picture.

These will get displayed in Fellowship Hall, as a way of sharing ourselves and connecting with one another.

Want to participate in the Path,? Contact Tom Mitchell, 314-858-1020

July Microcredit Club Update

The U-City Microcredit Club held a virtual meetingon June 26 at 7p.m.  We made 7 loans in 7 countries, totaling $550, as follows:

Wilber Erneste is 34 years old and lives in Masaya, Nicaragua.  He is in a relationship and has two children, ages 7 and 11.  He has been buying and selling harvests for 11 years.  He is borrowing $525 to buy tamarinds and mangoes.  The loan will be paid back in 10 months, beginning in September.  This is Wilber's third loan.  We loaned $100.

The Perseveranca IV Group is 4 ladies who live in Diademy, Brazil. They are borrowing $5400 as a group to be paid back in 8 months beginning in August.  Talita is the leader of the group.  She is married, has two children, and has worked as a hairdresser for 4 years.  She sees her clients at her home.  She is using her portion of the loan to by creams, shampoos and chemical hair products.  This is the group's second loan.  We loaned $50.

Itega Twetungure Group is 7 members who live in Ishaka, Uganda.  They are borrowing 8,700,000 shillings ($2,830) to be paid back in 7 months beginning inAugust.  This is their 4th loan. David, a member of the group, is 39 years of age, married with 3 children.  He is a merchant dealing in agricultural products.  His portion of the loan will be used to purchase coffee and matooke to sell or trade. We loaned $100.

The San Rafael group is 16 women who live in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.  They are borrowing $3,250 which they will pay back in 5 months, beginning in August.  One of the members is Martha.  She provides manicure services.  She has an established clientele that always come to her.  She will use her portion of the loan to purchase nail polish, files, clippers, and other supplies.  We loaned $100.

Amina is married and the mother of 5 children in Bafut, Cameroon.  She buys fish in the market in Bamandi, smokes them, and sells them locally.  There is an ever increasing demand for smoked fish in her village.  She is borrowing $275 to be paid back over 9 months, beginning in August.  Amina helps her community because people don't need to travel as far to get smoked fish, and eating fish will increase their protein intake.  We loaned $75.

The Maya group consists of 9 ladies from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.  They are all in the textile business (blouses, pants, shirts, aprons).  All of them have limited formal education. The group is borrowing $5,125 to be paid back in 12 months, starting in September.  Cruz, a 42 year old mother of three, will use her portion of the loan to buy fabric and cones of thread at the wholesale level, which she will use to make aprons.  We loaned $100.

Sempre Tres Vidas is a worker-owned-and-operated business in Aiborito,  Puerto Rico.  For the past 8 years, they have been using farming methods that work with nature to produce high quality food while improving the quality of the land. They are a 2 acre garden, and chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizer are never used in their operation. The farm serves as an ecological food oasis in acountry which imports 85% of its food.  It is estimated that the current food supply in Puerto Rico would last 2 1/2 weeks if imports were to cease.  The farm also serves a role in education, presenting programs in the local schools and in the community.  Sempre Tres Vidas is borrowing $10,000 to be paid back over 42 months.  The funds will be used to purchase a walk-behind tractor with attachments.  They will also build a 12' x 12' cold room which they will use to store products, extending their marketing season.  With these additions, they expect their profits to increase significantly.  We loaned $25.  This is our first loan in Puerto Rico.

Thank you for your continued support.  These loans are made, in almost every case, to persons who do not have access to financial services or would not qualify for a loan if they did.  Providing them with access to credit allows them to improve their lives and their communities.  Your contributions are making a real difference to nearly 500 persons in 78 countries around the world.

If you would like to participate in one of our meetings, talk to Tom Mitchell or Rich Wymore.

June Microcredit Club Update

From Rich Wymore:

The U-City Microcredit Club met virtually on June 8 and made 7 loans in the total amount of $475, as follows:

The Kuna Mbarele Group is 21 ladies who live in Ybycui, Paraguay.  The group is borrowing $5,250 to be paid in 5 installments beginning in August. This is the group's fourth loan.   Maria is one of the members of the group.  She runs a cantina in the school and has a lot of customers.  She is using her portion of the loan to buy drinks, juice, sweets and other items.  We loaned $100.

Sabougnouma Group is 15 women who live in Dieli, Mali. The group is borrowing $3,250 to be paid back in one payment in January, 2018.  One of the members of the group is Soumba.  She is 53 years old, married and has three children.  She did not attend school.  For over 20 years, she has fattened sheep and traded peanuts.  She will use her portion of the loan to buy rams to fatten and sell.  We loaned $25.

DuOng is a 30 year old married man with two children.  He lives in Hoang Hoa District, a rural town in Thanh Hoa, Viet Nam.  For the last three years, he has been cutting hair.  He is borrowing $450 to expand his barbershop.  He will repay the loan in 12 months, beginning in August.  We loaned $75.

Samuel is 32 years old and the father of two daughters who lives in Manandona, Madagascar. He has been raising pigs for 10 years and has borrowed money three previous times to purchase livestock.  He is doing well and has recently rented a rice field with his earnings.  He is borrowing $325 to be paid back in 12 months, beginning in August, 2017.  He will use the funds to buy two pigs, a steer, and 200kg of food-grade flour.  We loaned $25.

Lidiiya lives in Novomoskousk, Ukraine.  She is married and her children are grown. She has been in business for more than 20 years and, over those years, has experimented selling different goods. However, she has recently settled on women's underwear.  She is borrowing 50,000 hyrunias ($1,900) to buy wholesale goods.  She will pay the loan over 24 months beginning in August.  During the summer demand for her products grows, and she wants to have a wide variety of products.  We loaned $50.

The Cosmos 79 Group is 8 ladies who live in LaPaz, Bolivia.  The group is led by a board of directors and Gladys is president.  They are borrowing $6,525 to be paid back in 9 months, beginning in September.  Gladys is married, with 3 children and sells vegetables at her food stand. She will use her portion of the loan to purchase vegetables wholesale in the big market which she will sell.  We loaned $100.

The Crazy Laydy Group is 4 ladies who have been friends since they left their homes in the Phillippines many years ago to come find work in Lebanon.  The Phillippine community in Lebanon is marginalized, and they don't enjoy access to financial or other services.  The group is borrowing $2,800 to be paid back in 6 months, beginning in September.  Silbia is a member of the group.  She is 44 years old, married with 6 children.  She sells jewelry and will use her portion of the loan to purchase a new collection of Brazilian gold.  We loaned $100.

As always, we thank you for your support.

Town Hall Meeting Information

Town Hall - May 21, 2017

The Reconciling Ministries Network mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love. Congregations that identify with this mission can become part of the Reconciling Ministries Network through these steps:

  • Adopt an official welcome statement for people of all sexual orientations & gender identities.
  • Keep the welcome statement visible (e.g., worship bulletin, webpage, social media, bulletin boards, and opportunities in the community like pride festivals).
  • Donate $250 annually to the international Reconciling Ministries Network. This funds training events, online/paper communication, and witness at large UM gatherings. University UMC has a member who would be willing to underwrite this amount.

In practice, University UMC welcomes people of all sexual orientations and gender identities into congregational life and leadership. Officially, we have not publicly proclaimed this. People outside of this congregation may assume that we agree with the denomination’s official stance (“the practice of homosexuality… is incompatible with Christian teaching” - United Methodist Social Principles).

In July 2016, Leadership Council voted to pursue congregational discernment around becoming part of the Reconciling Ministries Network. In October 2016, we hosted an exploratory meeting to learn about becoming a reconciling congregation. Between 30-40 people attended. This group requested to learn more about Scripture and human sexuality, so Rev. Diane led two Bible studies in February 2017 on the seven Bible passages that directly mention homosexuality. Copies of this material are available in the Fellowship Hall.

In November 2016 and May 2017, the Ministry Team created and reviewed a draft welcome statement. The purpose of today’s town hall is to review the following draft welcome statement:

Our Welcome:  We invite people of all ages, races, cultures, gender identities, and sexual orientations to be you, be loved, and belong.

Please read, pray, and reflect on this welcoming statement. Bring questions and feedback to Rev. Diane, Dan Barrett (Lay Leader), and Charlotte Ellis (Lay Member to Annual Conference). Based on today’s town hall and feedback over the next few months, UUMC may vote on the Welcome Statement at the end of this summer.

U-City Microcredit Club Update

The U-City microcredit club held a virtual meeting on April 28 and made 7 loans for a total of $500, as follows:

The Tuinuwane Group is 29 women who live in Bukavu, Congo (Democratic Republic) at the tip of Lake Tivu.  The area around Lake Tivu was the most adversely affected by the two civil wars in 1996-2004.  The DRC lost 2 million people during that period and much of its infrastructure.  As a result, very few lending institutions exist in the area.  The Tuinuwane Group is borrowing $5,650.  Judith is the leader of the group.  She is 47 years old, married with 12 children.  She sells mattresses at the town's central market.  With her portion, she will purchase 10 mid-size mattresses to sell.  We loaned $75.

The Flor de Campo Group is 8 women who live in Curen in the high mountain country of western Guatemala.  The group is borrowing $2,750.  Marie is 29 years old, the mother of 3 children and she is illiterate.  She owns a convenience store and will use her portion of the loan to buy rice, pasta, eggs, coffee, sugar and salt.  We loaned $100.

Shareem is a 55 year old woman with 5 children who lives in Haripur, Pakistan.  She raises flowers and sells them in the local market.  She is borrowing 45,000 PKR ($450) to purchase seeds to raise roses, kanji palm, red palm and others.  This loan is designed to comply with Islamic Law and so cannot charge interest.  Instead the NGO (Kashf Foundation) will purchase the goods for Shareen and sold them to her with a small markup fee.  In order to provide that service to its clients, Kashf Foundation had to receive a fatwa from an Islamic scholar.  We loaned $50.

Faranianina is married to a driver, has two children and lives in Antananariva, Madagascar.  She previously ran a tavern but she went to school to learn hair styling a few years ago and now runs a hair salon.  She is borrowing $425 to buy brushes, masks and shampoo for her business.  Madagascar is classified as "fragile'  by the United Nations.  It has very poor infrastructure and a poorly functioning banking system.  This makes it very difficult to access funding.  We loaned $25.

Isara is 48 years old with 6 children of her own and 2 relatives that she adopted as well.  She lives in Waterloo, Sierra Leone and has had a fast food cake businessfor the past 9 years.  She is borrowing $275 to purchase flour, oil, sugar, baking powder, etc.  We loaned $50.
Ahmed is a Palestinian refugee who lives in Sidon , Lebanon with his wife.  He started a carpentry business with a friend 8 years ago but 2 years ago he decided to work alone.  He has a good reputation and a good customer base.  He is borrowing $1,375 to buy wood in order to finish projects that he is already working on.  We loaned $100.

Serafina lives in Cusco, Peru and does vehicle body repair work and painting.  She has had the business for some time and it is going well.  She works hard every day.  She is borrowing $1400 to buy auto paints.  This is her third loan.  We loaned $100.

As always, we thank you for your interest, your prayers and your support.  If you are interested in contributing additional funds to this effort, we take your contributions by credit card, debit card or PayPal account here. Click on the "donate" button and follow instructions for entering your information.  You will receive an Email confirmation.

Holy Week Q&A

Holy Week Q&A

Q I can choose between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services
because they’re pretty much the same thing... right?

A No! Think of your favorite movie trilogy. What happens to the story if you watch either parts 1 and 2 but not both? Would you watch A New Hope and Return of the Jedi but skip The Empire Strikes Back? Of course not! You need to come to all three services to experience the whole story.

Q Are you really asking people to wash each other’s feet? In church? Is this sanitary?

A Yes, part of a traditional Maundy Thursday service is foot washing.
It’s a beautiful symbolic act. Participating in this tradition is optional, however, and yes, we have clean carpet plus a supply of hand sanitizer.

Q What about my kids? Can they come on Thursday and Friday?

A Children are welcome at all services. Thursday is especially good
for kids because it is multi-sensory with communion, foot washing, and removing all of the decorations from the sanctuary. Nursery care is available for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday if you RSVP to Diane or Elizabeth by the end of today, 4/09.

Q Will the Good Friday service be gory? 

A Sorry, Walking Dead fans, we’re not going to spend a lot of time on the extreme violence of crucifixion. The point of Good Friday is not to inflict ourselves with guilt over Jesus’ physical suffering but to remember that Jesus willingly experienced death so that we could all enjoy new life through him.

Q I’ve heard that we should fast before worship on Good Friday. Why?

A Fasting is an ancient Christian ritual that helps us focus on Jesus’
sacrifice, solidarity with the poor, and our spiritual life.

Q We seem to be skipping Holy Saturday, and this upsets me.

A Good news! You can observe Holy Saturday at home on Twitter by following #holysat17 or @UUMCstl, starting at 9:00 a.m.

Q Easter mornings are hectic, and I don’t want to fight the lines at brunch before church. Do you have food?

A We’re Methodists, of course we have food! Come at 9 for a shared breakfast before the service. 

Q Speaking of food, isn’t there an egg hunt ?

A Yes, the youth will hide eggs for the children, and the egg hunt begins at 9:30. Bring a basket or bag!

Q Is there Sunday School or LOGOS on Easter Sunday?

A All classes are replaced with food and fellowship.

Q Do I have to bring food to share in order to eat?

A Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty for everyone. 

Q What if I don’t have fancy clothes for Easter morning?

A We invite you to Be You, Be Loved, and Belong. We don’t care what you’re wearing. Easter Sunday is about celebrating as a community, not fashion.

Q I have family members and/or friends whom I’d like to invite, but they aren’t necessarily churchgoers. Will they feel welcome?

A Of course. We’re happy to have them and won’t pressure them to join or convert. 

Q What’s Easter Monday? I thought Easter was one day?

A Actually, Easter Sunday kicks off the liturgical season of Easter, which lasts 50 days, until Pentecost. Enjoy those Easter chocolates for a few more weeks!

Q Any tips for worshipping with my children/ grandchildren?

A Glad you asked!

Headlines Learning Posts

The "Learning" section of our Headlines page keeps growing and growing! It's all interesting and relevant news, but we've decided to start moving older articles into this post. 

Praying for Refugees

Read a short reflection on the "Marawi Siege" in the Philippines, as we hold all refugees in prayer, whether they are crossing international borders or being internally displaced, dislocated and dispersed.

The Space Between

The Missouri Reconciling Ministries Network recommends this video, which explains and tells stories of "non-binary" gender identity. 

Local Resources on Race and Social Justice

The Center for Social Empowerment, which was started by United Methodists in Ferguson, Missouri, offers a curated resource list (articles, videos, podcasts, books, and definitions) for anyone looking for a way to start the conversation about race and social justice with your family, friends, coworkers, and community. 

New Nonprofit Movie Theater

24:1 Cinema, located near Ferguson, serves the north St. Louis area by providing entertainment and increasing community involvement. Read an article here about their mission.

UMC Bishops Will Meet in St. Louis in 2019

The UMC Council of Bishops is planning a special conference here in St. Louis in February 2019 to discuss the issue of the church's policies on homosexuality. 

You can read the general conference announcement here and the Missouri Conference response here. For more information on LGBTQ activism in the United Methodist Church, visit the Reconciling Ministries website.

UUMC is currently in conversation with Reconciling Ministries and will vote on whether or not to become an official Reconciling Ministries church later this summer. 

The Freedom of Real Apologies

A Native American writer explores the idea of "real apologies" in her poetry and conversation with NPR's
On Being. Read the interview transcript here

UMC Invests in Renewable Energy

Wespath, the UMC's pension agency, has invested over $30 million to clean energy causes.

Reflecting on Standing Rock

Two seminary students visited the Standing Rock reservation and wrote about their experiences as outsiders, witnesses, and advocates of Native American rights. 

United Methodism Around the World

United Methodism is a global
denomination! Here are a few stories about Methodists at home and a

West Virginia (Topic: Hidden Figures movie)
Philippines (Topic: Human Sexuality)
Nigeria (Topic: Refugees)

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Update

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty has released its 2016 Annual Report. 

God Sightings include: Decline to only 1 execution in Missouri in 2016. This is a significant decline from the 6 executions that took place in 2015, and the ten that took place in 2014. No new death sentences handed down in Missouri in 2016. This is the third consecutive year without a new death sentence in Missouri.  

As Sister Helen Prejean has said, "A person is more than the worst thing he or she has ever done.  God loves all human beings and endows them with dignity and worth..."

Standing Rock Sioux to fight Trump’s pipeline order

Read how UMC pastors and laypersons are standing in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux protesters. See updates on the protest here. 

UMC Efforts to End Violence in the Congo

Read how UMC leaders in Africa are responding to the ethnic violence in the Congo that has killed, injured and/or displaced thousands. 

Mass Incarceration is a Civil Rights Issue

The "School to Prison Pipeline" results in an astounding mass incarceration of people of color in the U.S. Read this article to find out what the UMC has to say about the issue and how you can help.

Faith and Race Podcast

Season 2 of the Faith and Race Podcast is available on iTunes. Listen to interviews with African-American Methodists from Missouri to explore the intersections of history, scripture, faith, race, and justice.

13th Documentary 

Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th is available on Netflix. It follows the progression of the 13th Amendment as it has lead to mass criminalization and mass incarceration of our current prison industrial complex. It is an extraordinary look at a part of our country's history and present that many of us would rather forget.

UMC Response to Immigration

During our recent Sermon on the Mount series, a few congregants asked about how the UMC is responding to recent immigration policies and issues. We've gathered together several articles that help shed light on this crisis and how we as Christians and Methodists are called to respond.

1. Commentary: An Executive Order with Memory
Rev. Mark Nakagawa reflects on how the recent Executive Order is reminiscent of the Japanese internment during WWII. This article is especially poignant for us because a late member of UUMC, Mimi Durham (Bull Durham's mother), was interned during WWII. She later helped to establish the Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

2. United Methodist Universities Join Amicus Brief Against Immigration Orders
Although this article is about action against the first executive order, the points raised here are still relevant.

3. Immigration officials detain United Methodist leader
Recent detentions hit close to home for this United Methodist.

4. Statement on Current Immigration Raids
The official UMC General Board of Church and Society statement about immigration raids and our beliefs as Methodists. 

 

 

Who are the poor in spirit? Who are the meek?

From the #140characters response cards:

  • "What does 'poor in spirit' really mean? Does it actually = meek?"
  • "What is the meaning of 'meek,' and how does one be meek in this time?"
  • "Pastor Diane-- what are the meanings of 'poor in spirit'? Does this mean the depressed? 'Blessed'-- what does this mean, imply, explain, signify?"

My not-so-secret social justice self prefers Luke's version of Jesus' teaching: "Blessed are you who are poor" (Luke 6:20). Blessed are the poor. Full stop. Jesus goes on to say, "Woe to you who are rich" (Luke 6:24). This teaching is clear, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Jesus blesses people without financial resources. We can even claim that Jesus has a "preferential option for the poor" --- that God cannot be impartial because the justice of God demands taking the side of the oppressed against their oppressors.

Matthew's gospel softens the radical economics of Luke/Acts. Rather than financial poverty, Matthew emphasizes spiritual poverty: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5, NRSV). So what is this spiritual poverty? Other translations of "poor in spirit" include "humble" (CEB), "meek" (KJV), "free of pride" (NIRV), "gentle" (NASB), and "kind-hearted, sweet-spirited, self-controlled" (AMP). The Message paraphrase offers, “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought" (MSG).

My modern twist would be: "Blessed are those who check their privilege. Blessed are those who have no privilege to check." 

To be poor in spirit is to be humble in your humanity and confident in your Creator. Acknowledge the pride and privilege that separate you from others. Confess, repent, and work to lift up others. But don't allow a false sense of "unworthiness" to separate you from the God who created you, called you "good," and is bringing you into the New Creation. 

Humility does not mean abasing or debasing yourself. Humility (from "humus," earth) is being fully grounded in who you are and whose you are. We're children of God, made from dirt and yet made in God's image.

When we're meek, we see ourselves as God sees us --- no more, no less. We acknowledge our sin and give thanks for the grace that doesn't leave us there. To be poor in spirit is to walk through the world acknowledging the reality that we're simultaneously sinner and saint -- and that everyone else is, too.We begin to see all people with the radiant light of God. We're equal under the cross. In the words of Joe Biden's father, "No one’s better than you, but you're better than nobody." 

So know who you are. Root yourself in God's love. And encourage everyone else to discover and declare their own worthiness. Those of the earth are blessed to inherit the earth. 

Blessings,
Diane

Cindy Finkenkeller's Godsighting

Good morning!

I would like to tell you about my Godsighting, which is about gratitude and has two parts.

The first part is the many consistent supporters and the devoted volunteers from UUMC who staff the expanded Open Door Ministry on Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. People in need each can take two full bags of groceries per month, toiletries, up to four bus passes per adult, socks, gloves, hats and personal hygiene kits. The church buys the bus passes, but everything else is donated. On Dec. 21st, we had nine adults and five children come through the building. All of the adults shopped carefully and filled their bags to overflowing with food. The need is great and ongoing. I find it inspiring that UUMC is trying to work on complicated issues like hunger and poverty, week in and week out.

In case you have not seen one, this is a personal hygiene kit. This Ziploc gallon bag has a bar of soap, a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, a sturdy comb, a small bottle of shampoo, a deodorant stick and a packet of tissue. These items are not covered by foot stamps and are prized. It costs between 12 and 15 dollars to make one personal hygiene kit, depending on the size of the items. On average, UUMC gives out about 25 personal hygiene kits per month, which costs about $300 to $375 per month. That is a big financial commitment for this church, and I appreciate every donation.

The second part of my Godsighting is about the gratitude of small children. In October, a family came to the Open Door ministry shortly before 4 p.m. The extended family had three children, 5 and under. The children played quietly with toys in a corner of the Fellowship Hall near the back entrance to Rev. Diane’s office while their parents thoughtfully made food choices to stretch the donations as far as possible. When the parents were finished and told the children that it was time to go, the 5-year-old knocked on Rev. Diane’s door and asked where she should put the toys away! I was impressed that a 5-year old would be this responsible and considerate, especially in a new environment.

Please continue to donate to our food pantry and its many parts, especially in the winter months. It makes a difference to many. Thank you.

Witnessing Whiteness: Joyce King

White privilege? Not me – I grew up in rural poverty, the child of a parent with an eighth grade education. No way am I privileged. Racist? Not me – I had a black fiancé in St. Louis in the 1980’s and have several mixed race great nieces and nephews today. How wrong this perspective was. Through Witnessing Whiteness I learned that we ALL are part of the problem of race in this country and we all CAN be part of the solution.

Witnessing Whiteness is a YWCA led workshop. Approximately six UUM folks joined a large group of our neighbors at Bais Abraham, meeting on Sunday evenings for ten weeks beginning last fall. I was particularly struck by how many older Jewish congregants participated, some in their seventies or eighties, and how they were still committed to learning and making a difference in our local community. One particularly bitterly cold, snowy evening, one of the eldest among us asked if anyone who lived west of 270 could take her home because her husband had refused to return to U-City in the elements to fetch her. Her dedication to these at times, difficult conversations and self-reflection really spoke to me.

Next, I’d like to read an excerpt from Shelly Tochluk’s book Witnessing Whiteness, to help you understand what this is really all about. "White people in general are not known for questioning (1) how we receive unearned privilege in our daily lives and (2) how whiteness marks our environments…people need to be clear that when we can witness the whiteness present in our surroundings, we let people know that we can be part of conversations that most white people generally avoid, defend against, or deny. In some ways, our ability to witness white privilege may offer validation for the experiences of the people of color in our lives. At other times, our increased vision may help to build trust, connection, and mutual sharing. In either case, when white privilege can be named and discussed as a real factor affecting people’s lives, the doorway opens for an entirely new ability to relate."

For a revealing glimpse of white privilege in St. Louis, please see Amy Hunter’s Ted Talk, Lucky Zip Codes.

 

Welcome, Elizabeth Coker!

We are thrilled to introduce you to our new Communications and Office Manager, Elizabeth Coker. After orientation this week, Elizabeth will begin officially on October 1st. Read a message from her below!

I'm excited to join the staff of University UMC as the Communications and Office Manager. I recently served at Manchester UMC for two years, working as a lay minister and writer. Before MUMC, I was an English/ Humanities professor for 11 years, most recently at Lindenwood University. A few years ago, I realized that although I loved teaching, my true calling was working and serving in the church. I love being part of a community of faith and using my gifts to serve God and others. 

I grew up in the St. Louis area and came back here (after several years in Texas) to raise my children. I am blessed with two sons, Jonathan and Lucas, who are both in grade school. In my spare time, I enjoy freelance writing, getting outside to run, walk, or bike, reading, listening to music, and enjoying St. Louis' fantastic art museums. 

My favorite Bible verse is Micah 6:8: "He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God." That verse guided me as a professor and continues to guide me today on my faith journey. I'm pleased and humbled to share that journey with you.

Witnessing Whiteness: Tom Mitchell's Journey

This post is written by Tom Mitchell, the Discipleship Ministry Team Leader.
 

Racism is a giant issue for the United States.  I have known that for a very long time, with a heart yearning for movement forward, with volunteering in many capacities of assistance to its victims, and always with the comfort of being able to pull back into my nice, almost all white neighborhood and circles.  And occasionally participating in well-intentioned inter-racial dialog that seemed to create more heat than light.
So, why plunge into Witnessing Whiteness, nine challenging sessions with a small, all-white group, facilitated by white leaders trained through the YWCA?   I knew this would be a time of deep inward looking at our country, our community and myself.  It would not be, and was not comfortable.  But, it was a safe space in which to learn, share and support one another.
Why an all-white group?  It seemed as if this was backwards.  I see two very good reasons for doing it this way:
1.    It is a simple justice matter that white people would do their own home work -- to dig into the dung heaps of racism and come to new insights, rather than the usual asking of those who are oppressed to do the work of educating us.
2.   To penetrate deeply into the realities of our country, community and our own lives and inner feelings is difficult, and is best done in a safe, confidential environment in the beginning.
  
This initial process will be in vain unless there are further steps, which will demand interaction with people of color.

It was difficult to want to attend and do the reading, as most of us felt as if we were being beat up on, session after session.  Not by the facilitators, who were skilled and  delightful, but by the subject matter and getting rubbed in the face with the dreadful realities of racism in our country.
So, my issue is whether I came out of it not just wiser, but in a better position to be a positive force.  Session 7 finally began to feel partially helpful in building up my strength and drive to move forward personally.  Sessions 8 and 9 fortunately turned toward how to proceed further in this journey, with practical suggestions, and an orderly process for development of personal social justice ministry.
The title of the book implies a hope that we will become better witnesses of our white culture, our racism, and be ready to verbalize this actively in appropriate situations.  I have felt some progress on this already.  However, this class, by itself, did not get us to the point of being well prepared for activism, though it helped.

My first steps:
1. I was referred to A People's History of the United States, and Birth of a White Nation for further reading. Witnessing Whiteness training focused mostly at a psychological level, and is lighter on learning about our history than makes me comfortable in discussing the issues beyond our safe space.  
Birth of a White Nation, a concise book, covers racial developments from early colonial times through the end of the 19th century, focusing on how and why oppressive systems were set up.

I highly reccommend Howard Zinn's Peoples History of the United States.  It is long, but lively, presenting what has been left out of our history books. He covers from Columbus through the middle of the 20th century in detail. Not pretty, but very important to know.
 
2. Using Witnessing Whiteness as a jumping off point for more justice involvement.  First, a new practice of responding firmly, calmly and knowledgable to racist remarks (be they explicit or implied).  Not ducking it.  

3. Next this needs to go beyond talk. I do not have discernment presently as to what that would be.  Witnessing Whiteness does offer a structured suggested path for moving on. 
Our interchange with Bais Abraham and All Saints people in our group was very positive.  Bats Abraham has come alive for me as real people well engaged in faith and justice work.
YWCA is planning new rounds of Witnessing Whiteness groups.  I encourage you to take the plunge!
 

Write here...

U City Microcredit Club

The UCity micro-credit club met virtually on July 15 and made 9 loans, totaling $700, as follows:

Marta Alicia, age 55, is a single mother and lives in her own home in El Salvador with her family.  She has been selling cashew nuts at different markets near her home for 16 years.  She is borrowing $500 to buy cashew nuts in bulk.  More than 20%of children below 5 years old in El Salvador come from families where single mothers are the sole source of income.  Since it is almost impossible for single mothers to borrow money from traditional sources, this loan is filling a great need.  It will help Marta increase her income and reach her goals.  She will repay in 12 months, beginning in September.  We loaned $100.

Celia is 53 years old and is the owner of a small store and snack bar in Asuncion, Paraguay.  She has many customers because she is located close to many workers.She has been in the business for more than 20 years and is borrowing $1,000 to renovate her kitchen and buy tables and chairs.  She will repay the loan over 12 months beginning in October..  We loaned $100.

Asssiya is 54 years old and lives in Hatizabad, Pakistan.Her village is surrounded by green fields and is an excellent agricultural area.  She owns a buffalo and sells her milk in the community .  However, her milk production is below average because cannot afford to buy nutritious , dry, green fodder for feed.  She is borrowing $350 to purchase the recommended food for her buffalo.  She will repay the loan in 12 months,  beginning with a double payment in September.  We some risk in this loan and loaned only $50.

Haym is a 26 year old opthalmologist who lives in Vanadzor town, Armenia.  He is listed as a service provider and currently provides any service relates to glasses.  He is borrowing $1700 to purchase optometry examination equipment in order to be able to provide high quality service.  He lives with his parents and sister and is the sole provider for their support.  He also cares for his 74 year old grandparents..  Haym will repay the loan over 24 months, beginning in September.  We loaned $75.

The Pada Welhoore Group is three women who live in Ougadougou Kilwa, Burkina Faso.  This is the groups second loan, with the first loan paid back on schedule. Assaiatov is the leader of the group and will use her portion of the $1,025 loan to buy tofu, two bottles of oil, a cartload of wood, skewers and a bag of sugar to make tofu skewers and juice to sell.  The group will repay the loan in 6 payments, beginning in September.  We loaned $50.

The Kajwenge Group consists of 32 men and women who live in Kasese, in the southwest corner of Uganda.  Mariam is the leader of the group.  She has an agricultural produce business and she also farms.  She is doing well enough that she is able to save some money.  However, she faces the challenge of fluctuatiing prices and tries to beat that problem by selling a variety of products that she purchases to resell - maize, beans, and g nuts.  The group is borrowing $4,425 and will repay the loan in 6 monthly installments, beginning in September.  We loaned $100.

The Tiessini Group is a group of 16 women who live in the Sourou River valley of Mali.
Juliette, a member of the group, is married , 42 years old, with 4 children.  For the last 25 years, she has purchased sheep in the neighborhood markets, raised them and sold them in the larger markets.  Her average profit is 25,000 FCFA (about $35).  She will use her portion of the $2,375 group loan to buy more sheep and animal food.  She can then feed them better and make a larger profit of $25,000 FCFA ($42).  The group will pay the loan back in one payment in April 2017.  We loaned $100.

The Waqayhuillqui Group is 12 individuals who live in the Cusco area of Peru. Pauline is one of he group members. She is a 49 year old widow with three children and works very hard.  She has been growing vegetables since was very young and sells them to some vegetable stands in the market.    She works every day and knows the business well.  She will use her portion of the $4800 to buy seeds and fertilizer.  The loan will pay back in 6 months, starting in September.  We loaned $100.  

Distey Phorey is a 25 year old bachelor and the sole income producer for his household of his mother and three siblings.  He lives in one of the most vulnerable areas of Port-Au-prince, Haiti and is a community leader.  He realized that extreme p0verty and deforestation had the greatest impact on his community and, after talking to many people, he found that 90% use charcoal as their primary cooking fuel.  That high usage isa contributor to the deforestation issue and causes many people to spend much of their income on charcoal.  He has launched an energy project named "Consume Less for Less".  He purchases high efficiency stoves from D& E green Enterprises.  These stoves create more heat for a longer period of time, thereby requiring less charcoal.  He is borrowing $1,000 to purchase more stoves to sell.  He will pay the loan back in two payments of $500 in October and $500 in November.  While we find this idea to be a potential solution to a huge problem, it is still in its early stages and we see much risk.  We loaned $25.

If you are interested in joining this small but impactful mission, please contact Rich Wymore.