I Am A Man

I Am A Man

i am a man

By Rev. Rashim Merriwether

Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives

“We can disagree and still love each other…unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist”

-James Baldwin

On February 12, 1968, 1,300 black sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike regarding sub-standard working conditions and higher pay. On March 29 of that same year, thousands of people marched in a protest led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, carrying signs which simply read…” I AM A MAN.” Although the context and issue of this strike have been generalized as “union talk,” the placards worn by the countless men of the Memphis sanitation community speak to some deeper foundational inequalities, and disparities that existed then and still exist today. 

Since March 29, 2021, I have watched the court proceedings unfold in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer charged in the death of George Floyd. I have watched this process reopen a box filled with pain, anger, anxiety, expectation, and frustration which many of us people of color have been burdened with carrying for so long. With each new event, each new death, each un-inclusive act, the weight of that box gets heavier and heavier to carry. Sadly, like most issues of injustice, the burden has been placed unfairly on the backs of the victim to carry.

As I process and reflect on what my eyes have seen, and my ears have heard, I find that same box getting heavier. As the witnesses testify, the jurors listen, the news agencies report, and people debate on technicalities, I am reminded of the black and white picture, which sits on the window sill of my office. It is there as a reminder to look deeper, understand deeper, know deeper, what are the real issues that exist. Just like the man in the photo, taken during that March 29, 1968 sanitation worker’s protest, there are deeper issues here, written in large, plain, clearly legible words…I AM A MAN.  

As emotions run high, and communities embrace a verdict, understand that there are deeper issues that are represented in this trial. James Baldwin wrote, “We can disagree and still love each other…unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” Regardless of the verdict the deeper issue remains and will continue to exist, as long as people refuse to go deeper. So, I will continue looking at the picture on my window sill, keeping my reality in check, I would only amend the placard to read…I AM HUMAN.

2021 Arkansas Conference Ordinands and Provisional Members

2021 Arkansas Conference Ordinands and Provisional Members

The 2021 Ordinands and Provisional Members will be ordained and commissioned at this year’s Annual Conference. Read about this year’s candidates below, and make plans to attend this year’s Ordination Service, either in-person or online, at the 2021 Arkansas Annual Conference, June 2-4 in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

2021 Ordinands

Elder, Full Membership

judy hall

Judy Casbeer Hall

Elder Track

Hometown:
New Blaine, Arkansas

Education:
Speech Communication/Journalism, University of Houston

Master of Divinity, Phillips Theological Seminary

Current Appointment:
Paris/Magazine/Waveland UMCs

Roy Elizabeth Kelley

Elder Track

Hometown:
Russellville, Arkansas

Education:
B.A. in English, Arkansas Tech University

Juris Doctorate, University of Arkansas School of Law

Master of Divinity, United Theological Seminary

Current Appointment:
Fort Smith First UMC

Future Appointment:
Lakewood UMC

roy beth kelley
andrew suite

Andrew James Suite

Elder Track

Hometown:
Montpelier, Indiana

Education:
Bachelor’s, Ball State University

Master of Divinity, Asbury Theological Seminary

Current Appointment:
Salem UMC, Conway

Melanie Laureen Tubbs

Elder Track

Hometown:
Russellville, Arkansas

Education:
Bachelor of Arts, Arkansas Tech University

Master of Liberal Arts, Arkansas Tech University

Master of Divinity, Iliff School of Theology

Current Appointment:
Augusta/Bald Knob UMCs

melanie tubbs

Deacon, Full Membership

george hull

George Hull

Deacon Track

Hometown:
Belfast, Northern Ireland

Education:
Dip. Th. from the Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland

Th.M. from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, New Jersey

Current Appointment:
Penney Memorial Church and Penney Retirement Community, Penney Farms, Florida

2021 Provisional/Commissioned

Commissioned Elder

walt garrett

Walt Garrett

Elder Track

Hometown:
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Education:
Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Science from U.S. Air Force Academy

Master of Divinity, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

Current Appointment:
Associate Pastor, FUMC Benton

Hyeong Kwon Jung (Paul)

Elder Track

Hometown:
Hwasun, South Korea

Education:
Bachelor of Theology, Mokwon University

Master of Theology, Mokwon University

Master of Practical Theology, Oral Roberts University

Doctor of Ministry, Oral Roberts University

Current Appointment:
Arkansas Korean Mission UMC

paul

Ryan Spurlock

Elder Track

Hometown:
Woodlawn, Arkansas

Education:
Bachelor of Arts in English, University of Arkansas at Monticello

Master of Divinity, Memphis Theological Seminary

Current Appointment:
Osceola United Methodist Church

Commissioned Deacon

Lindsey Nicole Russell

Deacon Track

Hometown:
Springdale, Arkansas

Education:
Bachelor of Art in Sociology and Cultural Anthropology with minor in Religious Studies, The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Graduating May 22, 2021 with M.A. Intercultural Studies with emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary 

Current Appointment:
Central UMC – Rogers

lindsey russell
Native American Ministries Sunday Is An Opportunity To Right Past Wrongs

Native American Ministries Sunday Is An Opportunity To Right Past Wrongs

native american

By Rev. Angie Gage

Cherokee, Chairperson of the Arkansas CONAM

The history of the Indigenous Peoples in our United States began long before the settlers first arrived. In 1988, the United Methodist Church realized the importance of remembering the history and presence of Native Americans, as well as the support that is needed within our Native American congregations and ministries throughout the U.S. At the General Conference in 1988, a new Special Sunday was added. That Special Sunday was and still is Native American Ministries Sunday. It is usually celebrated on the third Sunday of Easter but congregations are given the freedom to change that as needed.

People may not understand the importance of this Sunday to those of us who are Native American which includes the Native Hawaiians and Native Alaskans. However, the recognition of our existence is significant to us. It is an acknowledgment of our presence and our contributions, not only to our country but to God through the United Methodist Church.

Many from my family arrived in Arkansas ahead of the forced evacuation referred to as the Trail of Tears. My ancestors, known as the Old Settlers, were promised fertile land in this area as an act of trade and good faith, the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The land was not fertile. However, my ancestors made the most of a bad situation and began the long history of hiding behind the “farmer’s tan” look to not be known as Cherokee. It would become second nature in my family to know who we were but claim to be something other than Cherokee. I come from a long line of proud Cherokee people, including a Peace Chief who died on a tragic mission into Mexico. Along the Trail of Tears, I find parts of my family history in names on signs and stops some would have made.

My family was some of the lucky ones. Families forced to move in 1838 experienced loss that was unbelievable. The acts against Native Americans did not end there. In fact, they continued into the 20th Century, which is surprising to many. Children were being taken away from Native families and forced to be enculturated into a “white way” of life. Children were told that their language was evil, their worship was evil, and their traditions were evil. They were taken from their families, all too often, by a church group. Many atrocities continued against the Native People. The Indian Health Services which was a U.S. Government program, performed sterilizations on Native women to reduce the population. In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act passed at the close of The 95th United States Congress. Today, there are still cases of forced child removals ending up in court cases.

As one who has had to regain her identity, it is helpful to know that within my faith tradition, we are proud to claim that the 5.2 million Native Americans in the United States are not to be hidden and discarded. I am proud to know that our church recognizes that we are here and wants to contribute to the continuance of Native American churches.

Through giving on Native American Ministries Sunday, our local churches help to provide scholarships to Native American students for their seminary education. The giving supports vital ministries and churches in the Native American communities. Giving on Native American Ministries Sunday gives hope to children and youth, hope for a brighter future in impoverished communities, and a voice to those who have felt voiceless for years. Native American Ministries Sunday gives us an opportunity as the children of God to show that reconciliation for wrongs that happened in the past can happen. Half of the gifts given on Native American Ministries Sunday stays right here in our Conference for the work of the Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM). While the last year has slowed down the work of all aspects of the church, we are still here and working on continued educational opportunities in our Conference and a resource to be published by 2022. We thank you for your continued support of our Native American Christians throughout Arkansas and the United States. If you want to know more about how you can help beyond this Special Sunday, please feel free to contact me at angie.gage@arumc.org.

The Finish Line Is In ViewPandemic Easter Round Two

The Finish Line Is In View
Pandemic Easter Round Two

runner

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

We all remember Easter 2020. Only a month after the first confirmed case of COVID was found in Arkansas, many of our churches were wondering how in the world they were going to be able to safely have their annual Easter celebrations.

We were told various things in those first few weeks of the pandemic: everything is under control, we are beating this virus, we’ll all be able to gather again by the time Easter Sunday comes around.

Unfortunately, most of those early statements were tragically misinformed and naive. Now, one year later, we realize that the pandemic was much bigger than any of us expected it to be.

And yet, our churches did find ways to celebrate Holy Week and Easter in 2020. Some churches had the infrastructure already in place to pivot to virtual worship services; others had to figure it out from scratch. Some churches figured out how to take their worship services outside, or in the parking lot, with cars tuned to specific radio stations to hear the pastor’s message; others gathered outside in small groups to have Bible study.

As Bishop Mueller has mentioned before, and coming from a member of the Conference Center for Communication team, we are so very proud of the way churches stepped out and made sure that Easter wasn’t canceled, but instead, celebrated in a safe and, still, deeply meaningful way.

Now, it’s almost Easter once again. But this year, things are different. This year, we are better prepared for the reality of a scaled-back Easter service. We’re better prepared for live streaming, recorded services, and virtual small group discussions.

This year, we have a vaccine that is stopping the virus from spreading and keeping our friends and loved ones safe from hospitalizations and even death. The sense of relief that another tool to fight the virus brings to every one of us cannot be overstated. It’s like finally seeing the finish line after running the most drawn-out marathon in history.

On the day that this column publishes, it will be Maundy Thursday. As anyone who has celebrated Holy Week can tell you, Maundy Thursday is a day where we remember the Last Supper in Luke chapter 22, when Jesus gathered the disciples together to break bread and drink wine, and give them a final lesson before his ultimate sacrifice on the cross.

I can imagine many of the disciples were frightened and uncertain about the future of the world that night. Not only did Jesus let them know that this was his last night with them, but he had also just told them that one of them at the table would betray him that night. Talk about creating an uncomfortable family dinner conversation!

But the story of Holy Week, thankfully, does not end on Maundy Thursday. Just as Jesus and his disciples faced a dark and uncertain future before his crucifixion, we also continue to face a dark and uncertain future when it comes to the pandemic.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. We can see the finish line — this time, we can be more certain of it — and it’s not too far ahead of us now. Easter follows Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and that should give us all hope in the coming year. I pray that we remember that hope as we finish another unusual, but powerful and inspiring, Easter Sunday.

Do We Really Need a Savior?

Do We Really Need a Savior?

cross on a hill

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

Tomorrow is Good Friday.

As I’ve been thinking about the event that exists at the very heart of our identity as Christians, I’ve found my mind drifting to the current state of the Body of Christ. There’s no way to gently put it, so I’ll be blunt. I am deeply troubled, my heart is breaking and my soul is distressed. The reason is simple. I don’t see much evidence that we really think we need a Savior.

Rather, I see something quite distressing. We have become a church that is concerned with almost everything but Jesus. If you have any doubt, look at how we spend our time and energy. We are so shaped by the political and ideological wars going on around us that we see each other primarily through the lens of secular culture, instead of as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are so much part of a polarized world that we accept as normal the demonization of others with whom we disagree, instead of seeing them through our common relationship with Jesus Christ. We have become so self-centered that we are convinced the church’s primary role is to cater to our wishes and make us comfortable, instead of seeking to carry out the will of God. We fight so much about whether the people we want to help are worthy of our help that we become self-righteous, instead of taking seriously Jesus’ words in Matthew 25. We are so hell-bent on arguing whether we should have to wear masks that we spend much of our time engaging in internal combat, instead of spending our time reaching out to people so they can get to know Jesus as their personal Savior and invite him to be Lord of their lives.

To put it simply, we have lost our passion for Jesus’ passion on the cross. Of course, I’m realistic enough to understand that this statement will probably be greeted with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders. But the fact of the matter is that we do need a Savior. Whether we think we do or not. And we need one right now.

But I have hope even though things seem bleak. Indeed, more hope than I can begin to describe. That’s because there are signs all around that the Holy Spirit is at work right now stirring us up so we will be laser-focused on Jesus who died for us so that we will experience the fullness of his unconditional, invitational and transformational love. Not just so we can experience forgiveness, healing, joy and hope. But so that we can be part of Jesus’ mission of unleashing grace that transforms lives, communities and the world.

Indeed, tomorrow is Good Friday. It will be a somber day filled with mystery that cannot be explained and power that changes everything. I pray that this Good Friday will help us realize – perhaps for the first time, or perhaps for the first time in a long time – just how much we need a Savior named Jesus.