MARCH 13, 2020
Do no harm…, Do good…, Attend to the ordinances of the Church…
The admonitions above were the bedrock of the first Methodist societies and class meetings established by the Rev. John Wesley more than 200 years ago and are in the forefront of my thoughts and feelings as I reach out to you, the Park United Methodist Church family at this critical time.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and after extensive conversations and consultations with representatives of the Center for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the NJ Department of Health, the Bloomfield Department of Health and Human Services, and the Park UMC parish nurses, we have determined that the best course for fulfilling the first general rule of our faith community, do no harm, will be to suspend all public gatherings of the Park UMC family effective Friday, March 13th through Friday, March 27th.
We take this action because we are a community of FAITH who is dedicated to the health and welfare of all God’s children, especially those who are most vulnerable among us. This is a pro-active step based upon the best current information we have and will be evaluated and assessed daily.
This does NOT mean that Park UMC will not be actively continuing in mission and ministry, simply that the form of that ministry and mission will take a different shape.
We are currently developing ways to:
In the days to come please keep in contact with the church office and staff (973-429-7745; firstname.lastname@example.org ), ESPECIALLY if you are in need of food or medicine! Please check and make sure you have a two week supply of any prescription medication and as you are able, sufficient food and water. If you should develop COVID-19 symptoms (fever, persistent cough, body-ache, runny or stuffy nose, chills/fatigue, head-ache, shortness of breath) CALL your doctor for instructions do NOT go to their office.
As we prepare for the coming weeks let us BE the church of Jesus Christ! Not driven by fear, but confident in faith that by our actions we live the Christian life. In the days to come we will be reaching out for cooks, drivers, people to make phone calls, and other ways to serve one another and we also ask all who are able to remain faithful with your tithes and offerings by mail, electronic debit, or transfer. We will all be hard pressed…, but will not be overcome…
35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
…37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35, 37-39
If you have a suggestion as to how we can better respond in this critical time PLEASE contact us!!!
Grace, Peace, and Health, Joel
February 28, 2019
My Sister, Brothers, and Others whom I deeply love and cherish as siblings of the One God,
For the last couple days I have struggled with what to say to you following the actions of the United Methodist General Conference this past week in St. Louis. I am deeply grieved and shaken, but not surprised by the outcome. The United Methodist Church is a human institution that is ordered and maintained by human beings who are subject to the same fears, prejudice, anxiety, and ignorance that all too often defines our interaction with one another. The fears which separate families seeking refuge and sanctuary, the prejudice that pits one faith over and against another, the anxiety that builds walls to keep others out, the ignorance that blinds us to the truth that all human persons are created in God’s image and bear the Divine dignity and worth of the Holy One.
I reach out today as your pastor and brother reminding myself and all of us that Park Church IS a diverse family with members and friends whose origins come from Africa; Asia & the Pacific; Central, North, & South America; the Caribbean; and Europe - from more than twenty countries around the world. A family not only diverse by nation of origin and culture, but also in economic and educational background, faith heritage, gender identification, sexual orientation, and theological and biblical perspective.
The Park family welcomes and seeks to embrace ALL of God’s children and it is our expressed intention and mission to not only welcome and cherish our sisters, brothers, and fellow human beings, but to serve with one another IN the world, offering reconciliation, peace, hope, and above all the love and grace of God as we strive for justice and equity for all people.
Are we subject to the fears, prejudice, anxiety, and ignorance of the world? …Yes we are, we live in this world, but we will not be defined by the world or even the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. We will be defined by FAITH not fear and indeed perfect love casts out all fear.
The actions taken in St. Louis by the General Conference bring to mind other times the Christian community has made enemies of other human beings in every century and every decade, not because of the other’s actions, but because of their creation. The list within the last 50 years includes, but is not exclusive to: people of color, women, HIV/AIDS victims, immigrants seeking refuge and sanctuary, First Peoples, and the LGBTQI community. As a whole, I confess to you as an elder in full connection within the United Methodist Church, that I believe we as a denomination have estranged ourselves from one another and God and have practiced enmity against our LGBTQI family.
As long as I am blessed to be the lead pastor of Park United Methodist Church, I will endeavor with all the resources God provides me to be an advocate for justice and equity for ALL God’s children. Jesus didn’t ask us to agree, but he did command us to love. In the Park family, Black Lives Matter…; in the Park family, Women matter…; in the Park family, Refugees matter…; in the Park family, All Faiths matter…; in the Park family, LGBTQI persons matter!
This is my command, that you love one another, as I have loved you,
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
John 15:12-14, NRSV
The pain, exclusion, and persecution will never cease unless we act for justice in love. We are ALL the beloved children of God, now is the time to live it out.
With all the love, sorrow, and faith of my heart,
June, 20, 2017
Dear Members of Greater Bloomfield Interfaith Partners,
In recognition that the United Nations has designated today, June 20, as WORLD REFUGEE DAY, first let me express my personal admiration and appreciation for the work you have been doing this past year. Through your efforts GBIP has been able to provide sanctuary for three families (14 persons), as well as ongoing care with ESL, medical and housing support, and transportation for the Kouli family.
As we stand in solidarity with the millions of forcibly displaced persons of our human family around the world, I encourage you to use the following resources to educate yourself and others as we seek to do justice, practice (love) mercy, and walk humbly with God as we love our neighbors as ourselves.
http://reliefweb.int/report/world/unhcr-mid-year-trends-2016click the picture on the right for the full report in pdf format) http://www.unhcr.org/en-us
I was also asked to share with you that Park UMC is having a fund raising dinner this Friday in support of a team of youth and young adults who will be working to rehabilitate homes in Appalachia (Southeastern Kentucky) in July. It is a take-out meal of chicken or eggplant parmesan, penne pasta, salad & bread for $8 or four meals for $30. Pick up times are 5:30, 6:30, or 7:30 PM and you can place an order by email at email@example.com.
Thank you again for who you are and all that you do. May the God of us all continue to bless our work and relationships.
Salaam, Shalom, Peace, Paz,
*The Greater Bloomfield Interfaith Partners is a coalition of area faith communities and unaffiliated individuals that is dedicated to working for justice and equity among all God’s children regardless of nation of origin, sexual identity/orientation, race/culture, or faith. The participating faith communities include: Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green, Brookdale Reformed Church, Christ Episcopal Church, Congregation Shomrei Emunah, Glen Ridge Congregational Church, Temple Ner Tamid, and Park United Methodist Church.
**If you would like more information about GBIP, its ongoing work (feeding the community, providing homes for those needing shelter, advocacy and refuge for undocumented and documented immigrants, and refugee resettlement), or would like to become a part of this critical work, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 973-429-7745.
November 10, 2016
My Sisters and Brothers,
The results of our national election this past Tuesday have stirred intense reactions within many, if not all of us. I was filled with such foreboding and despair that I wandered through the house and yard all night with an aching heart and a troubled mind. Two experiences on Wednesday ministered to me and offered me hope. The first was being in prayer and Bible study at 6 AM and the second was the monthly luncheon with the senior adult fellowship.
As I read Luke 20-21, I was reminded nations rise and fall, but God and God’s Word are forever! Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures are filled with examples of corporate and national injustice and persecution, but God is faithful to the oppressed and God’s people rise to the challenge, not only to call it out, but to also actively stand in loving opposition to injustice and live in solidarity with the oppressed.
When the senior adults gathered at Noon, it was quite a somber moment. There was little light hearted, small talk or joking with one another and there was a deep concern expressed by everyone present, regardless of political or theological position, as to what would happen from here. At one point in our conversations this group of women and men born between 1928 & 1950 began recounting the trials and struggles they had seen in their lives. The Great Depression, World War II, the Holocaust, the Korean & Vietnam Wars, McCarthyism, the Red Scare and the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the struggle for equal civil rights for people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community were all recalled.
Each of these human created tragedies inflicted deep suffering upon others and in several cases brought peoples, nations and the world to the brink of destruction. Yet, somehow humanity persevered on and in the midst of even the most intense trials found a way to come together and overcome the adversity at hand.
By Wednesday afternoon I realized/remembered one of the ways God moves and redeems is through the lives and stories of my sisters and brothers – present and past. Regardless of your political affiliation or theological perspective, we live in a time of high anxiety, deep despair, palpable fear and intense anger, but we need one another and our Creator. This Sunday (November 13) at 5 PM, bring your feelings, your questions, your concerns, your hopes, and your faith and share with your neighbors. We need to talk and listen to one another and to the God of Heaven and Earth, let’s begin the conversation and dialogue NOW for as Abraham Lincoln observed in quoting Mark 3:25, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Grace and Peace,
July 14, 2016
My Sisters and Brothers of Park Church,
The violent acts of the past week have grieved us all and left families and communities shattered across our nation. As people of faith committed to justice and compassion how do we respond…, what do we do with the anger, fear, pain, and grief?
Our Gospel lesson this past Sunday confronts these very questions as Jesus responds to the inquiry, “who is my neighbor?” The parable Jesus tells in Luke 10 challenges each of us to be actively intentional in our response. Now there is no condemnation of the first two people of faith who encounter a beaten and bleeding man on the side of a road and choose to not intervene. Yet all of us understand, even the one Jesus was speaking with, that it was the Samaritan, the outsider, the reviled one, the one who chose to stop and act; putting his faith to work that is lauded and embodies love of neighbor.
The tragic events in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas occurred half a continent away, but we have seen and heard…
In 1963 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia viewed the suffering and injustice occurring in Birmingham, Alabama and offered these words, “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. King not only went to Birmingham, but soon found himself arrested and jailed along with many others. While incarcerated leading white clergy, including a Methodist Bishop, denounced the “unwise and untimely” actions of the demonstrators and their “outside” leaders. From his cell, King wrote a Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
What do we do…, how do we respond…?” I invite each of you to join me in a faith walk for the next 8 days that will focus on four intentional acts.
1) Read Luke 10:25-37. Don’t just remember it read it carefully anew.
2) Read or reread Letter From a Birmingham Jail (125 pages)
3) Pray daily for the victims of violence, their families, and those who committed the acts and their families.
4) Come to Park and be a part of the Interfaith Service on Thursday, July 21 at 6 PM.
Who is my neighbor? Our choices matter, our actions matter, let’s make our faith matter. Jesus’ admonition to the man who asked the question rings true for us as well, Go, and do likewise.
Grace and Peace, Joel
An Interfaith Service for Prayer, Reflection, & Hope in response to the shootings across our nation.
Envisioning and Becoming a Community of Justice and Compassion in the midst of violence and fear.
Thursday, July 21 at 6 PM Park United Methodist Church 12 Park Street, Bloomfield, NJ
**Immediately following the Interfaith Service Bloomfield Councilwoman Dr. Wartyna Davis will hold a Community Conversation in the Park United Methodist Fellowship Hall (7 PM – 9 PM). All are invited to stay and participate.
December 21, 2013
Each year we begin the holy season of Advent reading one of the gospel accounts describing the ministry and preaching of John the baptizer. This year I am particularly struck with the contemporary relevance of this servant of God and his call to his own people.
A man, born to privilege: the son of a Temple priest, exposed to culture and learning available in Jerusalem in the first century C.E. Yet, despite the circumstances of his birth, we encounter the grown John, in the wilderness,apart from civilized society, seemingly having denounced his status, and preaching as one of the prophets of ancient Judaism.
His message, Repent, for God’s kingdom is near!
The gospel writers agree that crowds flocked to him; people of affluence and the impoverished, the high-born and the low, people of Jerusalemand country folk as well.
They were drawn to the call to turn back – to return to God (Hebrew - teshuvah), to confess the breach in their relationship with God, and be baptized in the Jordan river as a ritual act/symbol of their repentance.
The writer of Luke tells us that John warns everyone to take stock of themselves and their lives and that real repentance/teshuvah is bound up not only through recognition and confession, but actively living as we come back to God. The people ask, what should we do? John says, If you have two coats, give one to a person with none and do the same with your food. Tax collectors asked, soldiers asked, and John’s reply don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t intimidate, don’t threaten or extort.
Again and again, I hear the call that how we live with one another, care for each other, and SHARE with each other are marks not only of God’s kingdom in our midst, but also the evidence of our turning back/returning to God and living repentant lives.
As the eve of Christmas approaches, I am struck by the growing divide between those who have and those who are in need. Can we really not offer $15 or even $10/hour to a food industry worker when the CEO of the same company receives more than $8,000/hour? Do we need to spend $140 billion on an aircraft carrier while cutting food assistance to the working poor? Will we continue to vilify and condemn people because of their sexual identity or orientation?
I know these are BIG, national and international struggles, but no movement ever began without one voice calling out, or one life taking action. In the first century, an obscure man started a ruckus that drew people’s attention to the presence of God in their midst. When you bring a coat, socks, or gloves, cook a turkey, participate in the Giving Tree, welcome a stranger, treat someone justly and kindly, contribute to the Haiti Initiative, spend an night as an IHN host, pack boxes at the FoodBank, your are living a repentant life, and the Kingdom of God IS near!
Grace and Peace, Joel
November 23, 2013
Earlier this week I wrote asking you to be in prayer with me over the church trial of the Reverend Frank Schaefer, accused with violating the United Methodist Book of Discipline by presiding at the same sex wedding of his oldest son in April of 2007. Among the many responses, several of you have asked of the outcome.
A jury of his peers convicted Rev. Schaefer on two counts of violating the Book of Discipline and later sentenced him to a 30 suspension with the stipulation that he will be stripped of his clergy credentials if cannot agree to obey the entirety of church law.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline is an interesting and somewhat unique document. Within it’s pages you can find an historical account of the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall… of the spiritual movement that became the United Methodist Church. There are statements which set out our theological positions on a host subjects, both within the body and within the world. There are stipulations and regulations which define how United Methodists will live with one another and order their life as a United Methodist Church body. The Book of Discipline is most orderly and methodical as befits our name and the Wesley’s personalities and practices. So, you will also find a list of qualifications to be an ordained elder in full connection, alongside of which can be found the obligations, requirements, expectations, and chargeable violations.
In 1972, the General Conference (the legislative body of the denomination currently representing 12 million members world-wide) inserted a statement in The Book of Discipline which states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. It further prohibited United Methodist churches for hosting same sex marriages and United Methodist clergy from presiding over such unions adding that to do so would be a chargeable offense with a range of possible penalties to include the loss of clergy credentials. Last year, the General Conference reaffirmed these statements and positions.
Based upon the letter of church law, Rev. Schaefer’s actions were in violation and the punishment within the scope provided. HOWEVER, if you take the time to read through our history, and you need not go back to the Crusades, it is clear that despite the faithful and often prophetic elements within Christianity AND the Methodist church, we have often been tragically wrong in caring for our sisters and brothers – OUR NEIGHBORS!
Earlier this week I shared with you one of the stories of Jesus that helps keep me centered on my spiritual walk; Matthew 22:37-40, where Jesus responds to a question from a church leader about which of God’s commandments is the greatest. In that exchange Jesus concludes his remarks by saying,
On these two commandments HANG all the law and the prophets. Matt. 22:40, NRSV
HANG… like a door on hinges – without which a door is just another wall…
When the writer of Luke records this encounter (10:5-37), the leader posing the question to Jesus goes further and seeks clarification… just who is this neighbor, this one I am supposed to love as I love myself?And the subsequent parable Jesus tells is one of the most familiar and remembered within our faith; the Good Samaritan…
I say to you this day, my friends, Frank Schaeffer and all the others who have stopped, knelt, embraced, bathed the wounds, and provided compassion and love for the LGBTQ community are the very embodiment of Jesus parable for me.
For although the Samaritan and Jew were estranged and even pitted against one another by culture, heritage, social, political, economic, and religious conditions - the Samaritan CHOSE to stop and love as an action, not just as a principle.
Parts of the Christian community have made enemies of other human beings in every century and even decade, not because of the other’s actions, but because of their creation. The list within the last 50 years includes, but is not exclusive to, people of color, women, HIV/AIDS victims, First Peoples, and the LGBTQ community. As a whole, I confess to you as an elder in full connection within the United Methodist church, that I believe we as a denomination have estranged ourselves and have practiced enmity against our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. There are times when I feel that we have not only been among those who observed the suffering and passed by silently, but have been the very ones who perpetrated the assault and left our victims half dead in the ditch.
As the lead pastor of Park United Methodist Church, I will endeavor with all the resources God provides to be an advocate for ALL God’s children. Jesus didn’t ask us to agree, but he did command us to love.
This is my command, that you love one another, as I have loved you.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
John 15:12-14, NRSV
The pain, exclusion, and persecution will never cease unless we act for justice in love. I am grieved by the current outcome in Eastern Pennsylvania and I grieve over the continued stance and church law of the denomination in which I serve, but there will be no change in this situation unless people of faith stop, drop, and provide caring love to the children of God lying in the ditch. Equity for all God’s children is a hallmark of God’s Kingdom, it’s practice begins with each participant. My prayer this day echoes the final phrase of the wondrous hymn/prayer Let There Be Peace on Earth, Lord…, let it begin with me.
Grace and Peace,
Monday, November 18, 2013
Tonight my thoughts and prayers are focused on events in eastern Pennsylvania, as a group of United Methodists serving at a church trial, deliberate the case of the Reverend Frank Schaeffer, a United Methodist pastor charged with violating the Book of Discipline by presiding at a same sex marriage in April of 2007.
I write this evening not to argue points of theology or debate biblical texts (there will be other opportunities for that), but rather to share with you the question that keeps ringing in my head and heart…
Where were you, Joel, when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding... Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place... Job 38:4, 12, NRSV
When I first accepted the grace of God for myself and called Jesus, Lord and Savior in October of 1981, I was profoundly humbled by the unmerited love and acceptance I received and over the course of the next year I felt called to encourage and empower others to experience the same for themselves.
My awakening wasn’t rooted in rules and regulations; it wasn’t stimulated by morality or by either a fear of hell or a promise of heaven. I was transformed by the actions of a loving, compassionate God, who offered forgiveness and hope to a young man who was floundering in his life.
As the decades have unfolded, I am still constantly struck by this love; a love embodied in the person of Jesus who at every turn sought to liberate and empower all he met to not only live healthy lives, but to be able to live in healthy community.
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life are filled with examples of his struggle with authorities, who would bind and oppress others, so I ask myself,
Who are you, Joel, to define the nature of another person? Who are you, Joel, to decide the inherent worth, identity, or orientation of a fellow creature?
As a friend of mine is prone to remark,this is above my pay grade. And I hear the words of the prophet Micah (6:8, NRSV),
God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
I take the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus very seriously and I am left with Jesus’ own answer to the question, which of the commandments is the greatest?
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV
So on this night when fellow Christians will decide the ecclesiastical fate of a pastor who has followed Jesus’ command, I ask myself, What does it mean in this instance to love God and my neighbor?
Pray with me and for all of us that we will be able to act in God’s love forALL of humankind, because of the diversity in which God has created us.
Grace and Peace,