We have a Great Church with Incredible Leaders!

I spent three days last week with Bishops and Cabinets from across the U.S.  They were days packed full of inspiration, information, collaboration, and consultation all around engaging the mission of the Church.  From 8:00 in the morning to 8:30 or 9:00 at night we met to worship and to refocus on the purpose at the core of our church.

As I boarded the plane to come home, I took at least three things from our time together:

First:  We have incredible leaders.  I can’t adequately tell you the level of respect I have for our Episcopal leaders (and that’s not just because our former Grand Rapids Superintendent is one of them now!).  Our Bishops are extremely gifted inspiring leaders and I am grateful for the fact that as we go through these challenging days these gifted people are leading us.

Second: We have a great Church.  We heard stories of ministries and lives changed from all parts of the country.  We heard of faithful pastors and lay people who are finding creative and unique ways to offer the love of Christ to people in every life circumstance.  It was deeply moving to hear the reports of missional engagement and churches growing in all kinds of ways.

Third: We have a significant challenge.  Our churches for the most part are not growing and while, as I said, some of the stories were wonderful, they are way too few and far between.  The task of shifting our congregations from consumer models to missional models is a heavy lift and it’s even harder as it’s taking place in the virtual absence of people under 30.  In our Conference and in others VCI (Vital Church Initiative) and its counterparts are helping, but VCI is a process not a quick fix and Lovett Weem’s “death tsunami” is upon us.  The internal conflict over theological understanding and Biblical interpretation within the General Church is also in the mix and creates anxiety around divisions, that for some, seem too deep to overcome.

But friends, we have a great Church!  We have incredible leaders!  And we have a faithful and gracious God who IS leading and calling us to fulfill the mission given to us all to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.  And this church, with these leaders (and that’s ultimately all of us), by the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, can meet our challenges and can see, in the face of our challenges, in the face of struggles, in the face of scarcity, in the face of anything that stands in the way, the fulfillment of our calling.  It will take prayer.  It will take work.  It will take a willingness to let go often of ourselves.  But we can do it.  With God’s help and grace we can see a new day.


Less than a week to go!

Well it’s finally here.  By the time I write this blog next week we should know who the next President of the United States is.  It has been an incredibly long campaign with lots of twists and turns.  It has been filled with vilification and scandal.  It has been characterized, in a way I have never seen, by distaste and high “unfavorability ratings” for both candidates.  It has been filled by “bombshells” (CNN’s favorite word!) and soundbites every day for 18 months.  And by next week at this time it will be over.  And what I wonder is, what’s next?  And perhaps more than that, what is next for Christ followers in this country?  What are we to do on November 9th and following?

Let me suggest a few things I intend to do and invite you to share:

  1. I have a pretty strong preference in this election and I am going to be pretty hard to live with for a few days if the candidate I’m supporting loses next Tuesday.  BUT, regardless of who wins, I will pray for our new president.  I will pray that God will guide our new president and that they will listen to God’s leading.
  2. I will pray for Congress that the members will work towards the good of all the people. I will pray that they find ways to work together, to compromise, to be states-persons rather than just members of a party.  I will pray that they will work towards needed reform in the whole process so that less time is spent campaigning in the future and more time governing.
  3. I will also continue my longtime practice of calling, emailing and texting the President and my legislators about legislation that I believe is important for me as a Christ follower to support. Legislation that helps the poor that empowers the least of these and creates more and more justice for all.
  4. I will continue to connect with agencies that track legislation related to the poor both locally and globally, agencies that work for peace, agencies and organizations like Bread for the World our own Board of Church and Society, and use their legislative alerts to learn and again seek to influence legislators in support of these important pieces of legislation.

It’s almost here.  This election cycle is almost behind us.  But the work of following Christ, and living out our freedom and democracy in ways that continue to seek justice for all, is never ending.

Don’t forget to vote.



Being Still in a Revved Up World

My father was not gifted in working with tools so I did not develop skills many boys, and I would hope girls, are taught when it comes to using drills and other power tools or the basics on how to build things. I have learned a little bit from others through the years, and I can do some basic tasks to care for my home. But, I do minimal building, as I am not gifted in any way in this area.

About ten years ago I bought a chain saw to use on our property up north.  I don’t like my chainsaw.  It scares me to use it.  But I have learned how to use it safely, and this past summer I spent some significant time thinning out small trees on our land.  While it is not my favorite thing to do, it was good to get the work done and the chainsaw makes it light work.

I had an issue with the chainsaw as I worked with it.  The idle was quite high.  Now, as I stated before, I don’t have a clue about how to fix things like this.  So every time I finished cutting and pulled back the bar that stopped the chain, the engine would rev up significantly.  The sound was very unpleasant both to me and, I suspect, my neighbors.  But I couldn’t do anything about it.  So every time I stopped sawing, the engine would just climb in pitch and roar.

I thought about my saw this week as I watched the news and followed the growing pitch of the revved up rhetoric from the campaign trail.  I thought about it as I fielded phone calls and emails related to the church, both local and global, questioning where we are going and the struggles of these days.

And as the sound grows in its intensity, I find that if I’m not careful, my “engine” begins to rev up too!  If I’m not careful my insides and sometimes my outsides begin to stir too.  Maybe the same thing happens to you?  Maybe, like me, you find it hard to slow that response down.  Maybe you, like me, find yourself acting and reacting in ways that surprise you, not knowing how to stop it.

What I am trying to do, some days more successfully than others, is to pay attention to what’s happening in my soul.  I’m trying to pay attention when I feel that revving up beginning to occur in me.  And when it does, I’m trying to turn to prayer.  I’m trying to invite God’s Spirit to lead me toward God’s peace, to help me to breathe, and to quote that beautiful Biblical word, “Be still and know that God is God.”

I don’t know where your “rev” level is these days.  But if it is slipping into that high rpm level, let me invite you to join me in seeking to remember that God is still God, and God offers us a Peace that passes understanding, that goes beyond circumstance.  I invite you ─ as you begin to hear that high pitched whine start to spin in you ─ to pause, take a breath, and lean into God, where there is rest and peace beyond measure.


Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner-New Book Signing on July 14 and 17

Press Release

The United Methodist Church of the Dunes is pleased to announce the arrival of the new book, God Incidents – Real-Life Stories to Strengthen and Restore Your Faith, by Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner.  This book, which was the number one best seller at the recent state wide conference of United Methodists, invites persons who are struggling with belief to reconsider God.

With honesty, empathy, and inspiration from four decades of global pastoral experience, Pastor Glenn shares many different ways that God is made known so that persons who doubt God and those who seek to help them may find new perspectives for living.

“In nearly four decades of pastoral ministry, I have had the privilege of meeting many people who reject God.  They disbelieve with strong reasons.  Their authentic doubts have helped me grow. They have caused me to stretch my understanding of faith.  They have humbled me. They have taught me to listen – to them and to God.  Their attitudes about God are increasingly commonplace.  I wrote this book as a personal and pastoral response to their very real and legitimate questions about God.”  ~ Glenn Wagner

Pastor Glenn shares life shaping events that have helped him to deepen his understanding of God including the inspirational story of his special-needs sister, Jane. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each book supports Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois, a world-class community for special-needs adults that has been Jane’s home for over thirty years.

Chapters cover different facets of God by examining topics such as defining God-incidents, miracles, creation, prayer, dreams, places to discover God, ways to discover God, what to do when God seems absent, dealing with disappointment and doubt, discovering God in community, and more. Discussion questions for each chapter are offered at the end of the book, and will also be used in the 5-week book discussion class led by Pastor Glenn on Wednesday evenings, beginning July 27.

Pastor Glenn Wagner (188x239) (2)
Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner

Meet the Author, Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner at his book signings on Thursday, July 14 at 7:00 p.m. at The Bookman, 715 W. Washington Street, Grand Haven or Sunday, July 17 at 9:30 a.m. at Church of the Dunes, 717 Sheldon, Grand Haven.  Sunday morning’s event will take place in the Wiltse Center from 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.  Pastor Glenn will be on hand at both events to meet you and sign your book.

For more information about God Incidents, including excerpts, visit www.glennmwagner.com. Copies will also be available for purchase at The Bookman.

God-Incidents is endorsed by Bishop Kiesey with a forward by Bishop Sharon Rader. A simple way to learn more about the book, link to a preview of the book, or to booksellers to direct order, is through the website www.glennmwagner.com

Churches interested in having Glenn come for a book signing or in arranging for volume discounts for book study groups are welcome to contact him at 616.510.1770.

Purchase a paperback copy HERE

Purchase a Kindle copy HERE

Be a Guest Blogger: Your Story Can Appear Here this Summer!

This summer you can be a featured guest blogger on DS Castings! Please read Bill Haggard’s message below to find out how.

I will be on renewal leave through Labor Day.  This means, among other things, that I will not be writing this column each week!  I know that many of you are asking, “How will I make it through these long summer months without this weekly word from my DS!!”  Well here’s what I was thinking…

What if castings became, for the summer, a place to tell stories?  What if it became a place where the good news of life transformation in our churches was shared?  So often there are things happening in our ministries that don’t get told.  There are lives being changed, people discovering hope, receiving fresh meaning and joy in all kinds of ways because of what we do and how we embody God’s love, but the story never gets told.  The Good News is received but the “light” gets hidden under a bushel.

So this summer what I want to invite you to do is share those stories!  Write them up and email them in to Liz and we’ll share and celebrate the work of God in our midst.

Too often we focus on the negative side of our church.  We highlight the differences we have.  We center on the scarcity we struggle with and the problems we are encountering.  Let’s take time this summer to talk to one another about the ways we, the United Methodist Churches of the Grand Rapids District are seeing God touching and changing lives!

~ Bill Haggard

Please submit your essay to Liz in the GR District Office by email at grdistrict@wmcumc.org deadline is any Monday!

Being Humble in the context of Race Equality

I read a very interesting post this week on Facebook.  The post was shared by and author who identified herself as “Christina.”  The post addressed a number of issues related to the present political climate in the context of race and privilege.   One statement in particular stood out for me in the article. “To people of color like me” Christina stated, “the movement toward a more level playing field is occurring at a painfully glacial pace. But to many white men, the change is happening so fast and it all seems so painful!  Sociologists Henderson and Herring note that when white men begin to feel the effects of equality (e.g., they realize that they no longer receive preferential treatment or have power over others), it feels like discrimination to them. Being treated like everyone else is not discrimination (in fact, it is the textbook definition of equality). But when you’ve lived atop the racial hierarchy for your entire life and grown accustomed to preferential treatment and disproportionate amounts of power, it’s emotionally painful and destabilizing when they’re taken away.”

I have been thinking about this statement all week.  I see its reality in so many places.  I see it being lived out in so many situations ─ those named in the article to be sure ─ but also well beyond just race and gender.  I see it being lived out where shifts are bringing about change and those who have held power in the past are seeing a growing equality as discrimination.  I see it in the culture as a whole and I see it in the Church as well.  I see it in others and I have felt it in me.  It is a reality to which we need to pay attention.

My hope is that we might allow God’s Spirit to work in all of us when we encounter that rising tide of angst that usually accompanies this experience.  My hope and prayer is that we might invite God’s Spirit to check us when we encounter that rising indignation about how we are being treated and seek to humbly discover if it might be that we are experiencing exactly what Christina is naming from a privilege perspective.

These are not easy things to admit.  As the article points out all our defenses go up when we are confronted with this experience.  But as followers of Christ, it behooves us to constantly be looking for the places where our privilege may be affecting others and where we may be holding on tightly to power.  And when we find those places, to then as Jesus did, pick up the towel and basin and choose the path that leads to life.


A Way to Leave a Lasting Legacy in the Face of Probable Church Closure

I met with a group of leaders from a church recently.  It was the type of meeting that I have had on an all too regular basis these days.  The church has experienced decline.  They have seen a number of members lost to death.  While here and there they have experienced some young families visiting over the last few years, the large non-denominational church down the street had eventually drawn them away with the programs and groups for kids and youth.  This church has over 100 years of history.  They have stories of lives transformed, of mission outreach, of significant worship and presence in their community.  But now worship, most Sundays, is down to under thirty and the few leaders who care for all the tasks of ministry are getting older and more tired.

It’s a meeting I have all too often and I expected it to follow the normal course.  Most of the time in these meetings we are gathered because folks have come to the realization that due to similar factors as I named above, they can’t continue to keep the level of pastoral support that they’ve had in the past.  Because of that realization they have called me hoping to figure out how to keep things going with a different level of support. The goal of this kind of meeting is to find a way to enable the present congregation to continue to have some semblance of what they have had.  The focus is on the people who are there already.  The highest priority is finding some way just to keep going.  And their greatest fear is that I, or THE CONFERENCE, or somebody is going to tell them they need to close.  While there is often little sense of mission or vision, and a number of the aspects of Paragraph 202 of the Book of Discipline that outline the minimal functions of a church are missing, these factors take a back seat to the conversation around the desire to make the current congregation somehow limp on.  Most of the time this is the tenor of these meetings.  But not this time.

As we sat together around the table the folks at this church talked to me about their desire to make an impact.  They talked to me about legacy.  They shared the fact that in reality they could probably limp along for a number of years, but they didn’t see that as a faithful use of the resources they had.  One person in the group put it this way, “When we gather on Sunday we magnify God, but as a church we are not serving God.”  While having the gut wrenching conversation about what it might mean if they were to close this congregation focused on mission and ministry and what they might do, given their circumstances, to benefit ministries that were making a difference, to serve God not themselves.  It brought me to tears.  Here was a congregation willing to engage their situation saying, it’s about God and God’s church and mission, not about us.

I wish I didn’t have to have these meetings.  I wish every one of our churches was thriving.  But I’m grateful for those who continue to focus on mission even when the original mission that began their congregation years, decades, centuries before may be shifting.