Thank YouA Final Word from the Editor

Thank You
A Final Word from the Editor

caleb hennington

Caleb Hennington, Digital Content Editor for the Arkansas Conference.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

I thought a lot about what I would write for my last From the Editor column.

Yes, you read that correctly, this will be my last time writing a From the Editor column as the Digital Content Editor for the Arkansas Conference. I have found a new career opportunity in Arkansas, and have decided to end my time here at the Conference office in order to pursue a new adventure.

And it’s a bittersweet change because although I’m excited for what my new career has in store for me, I’m also sad that I will be leaving a position that has taught me so much. I’ll also miss working with people who have been so good to me in the three and half years I’ve been here, many of whom have become close friends of mine.

But rather than be sad about all the things that will be coming to an end, I thought I’d use this last editor’s column to talk about the things that have been accomplished in my time here.

When I started writing for the Conference in June 2018, I was tasked with taking over and transforming The Arkansas United Methodist newspaper, a 130-something-year-old publication with a rich history in the state. From the ground up, I, along with the awesome Center for Communication team, transformed the AUM from a print-only newspaper to a digital-first, online magazine, The Arkansas United Methodist: Living Our Faith.

Although, in the beginning, many people questioned the plan to change such a storied publication so drastically, most people came to love and appreciate the new format. And at the first United Methodist Association of Communicators awards event after the redesign, our team took home multiple first place wins for the new AUM magazine, solidifying that our decision to take the AUM into unknown territory was the right one to make.

As your editor these past few years, I have loved getting to know your pastors, your churches, and your mission work. I’ve consistently been impressed with the depth and breadth of work and love that Arkansas United Methodist Churches put into their communities.

My favorite stories to tell were the ones where churches came together with their communities to overcome physical hardships and deep, emotional struggles. Like the volunteers that came together to help people who had lost everything in the historic Arkansas River flood of 2019, or the racial healing that occurred in our congregations in the summer of 2020 after the horrific murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

These stories were hard to cover, but they were necessary for healing historic wounds and for bringing together United Methodists all over Arkansas for a common cause. It’s stories like these that made us forget about all of the fighting and turmoil surrounding the UMC’s General Conference that weighs heavily on the hearts of many in our church.

My initial From the Editor column in August 2018 was titled “A New Chapter,” and in it, I said that I didn’t want to focus on the fear of the future, but instead, I wanted to focus on three important things: hope, faith and optimism. 

Hope that the new format of the AUM will be well received.

Faith that this is the right direction for the publication.

And optimism for the future of not only the “Arkansas United Methodist,” but for the United Methodist Church in general, that the church will remain intact, and continue to create vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.

And although the ball hasn’t moved very many yards down the field since 2018, and we’re all still wondering when General Conference will take place, I think it’s important to continue to remember those three things: hope, faith and optimism.

In my mind, those first two points have been met; the AUM’s new format was well received by many, and I believe this was the right direction for the AUM.

As far as optimism goes, although things have looked rocky for the United Methodist Church for a few years now, and COVID-19 has accelerated those fears even more in the last year, I am still optimistic that the decision that will be made at General Conference on the future of the Church will be the right decision for all parties involved, and the mission of creating disciples for Jesus Christ will continue on.

Thank you to everyone who has written to me, emailed me, called me, or texted me with a story idea over the years. You have helped me in more ways than you realize, and my only regret is that I didn’t have the time to cover every story of vital mission work that came across my desk.

I have no doubt that the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church will continue to be a place where the vital work of making disciples, who make disciples will continue for many, many years to come. 

Thank you for allowing me to play a small part in the vital mission work of the ARUMC, and I’m sure I will see many of you again in the future.

Blessings,

Caleb Hennington

The View Is Always Better at the Top

The View Is Always Better at the Top

pinnacle mountain

Pinnacle Mountain. Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Have you ever looked up from the bottom of a mountain and thought to yourself “there’s no way I’m getting up there”?

Maybe you were ambitious and thought you could traverse a hike through the woods and up the side of that mountain, but now, you’re three miles in, tired, dehydrated, maybe a little hungry because you forgot breakfast that morning, and you’re staring up at what seems like an impossible feat.

If you’ve ever hiked the East Summit Trail at Pinnacle Mountain in Little Rock, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a nice little meandering walk through the woods for about a half-mile, but then you arrive at an impossibly large mound of boulders staring at you and just daring you to try to conquer it.

But also, if you know that trail, you know that getting to the top is absolutely worth the challenge.

Because once you get over that last stretch of boulders at the peak, you are rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding landscape. From the top of the mountain, 1,013 feet above sea level, you get a wonderful view of Pinnacle Mountain State Park, as well as Lake Maumelle, the Maumelle and Little Maumelle Rivers, the Arkansas River, and even the downtown Little Rock skyline.

Every time I get to the top of the summit, I just have to sit and take it all in for a while.

Hiking up a steep mountain is a bit like life. You sometimes find yourself at the bottom of your journey, tired, unsure, and scared to face what seems like an impossible task before you.

And the journey is anything but easy. You end up exhausted, winded, perhaps a little bruised and scratched up from a few small tumbles you took along the way. But once you get to the top, the reward is no doubt worth that difficult climb.

Right now, I think the United Methodist Church, and the world, are still climbing to the top of that summit. We thought we were going to reach it in 2020, but it seems like God had other plans for us. 

We are still working through our fierce disagreements on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. We have deep theological differences that need to be healed. We are just now getting to a point where the coronavirus pandemic seems to be under control in the United States, although in other parts of the world, it is still raging uncontrollably. And racism in the world and the church is anything but resolved, although we have made great strides in recognizing the hurt and pain that have been directed toward our Black and Brown brothers and sisters throughout American history.

Bishop Mueller recently said in his Episcopal Address to the 2021 Annual Conference that he believes we are experiencing the gift of an unexpected pause right now. I believe the same; we’re halfway up the summit, taking a granola and water break before we conquer the remainder of the trail.

I don’t know what the future holds for the church; I hope that whatever the outcome, it is God’s will and that every side finds peace and comfort in the decision that is made. Similarly, I don’t know when the pandemic will end, or when we’ll finally make reparations for systemic and systematic racism.

I do know that God doesn’t leave us wondering where we should look when we face a mountain. God says, simply, to look to God. 

One of the most famous verses about mountains, of course, is the one about having faith like a mustard seed, but I find Psalm 121:1-2 to be a little more relevant to my mountain metaphor.

“I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.” – Psalm 121:1-2, The Message

Take heart, knowing that the path that’s left before us is not as long as it seems, and once we get to the summit, we should pause and take time to reflect on all that we have learned before we head down the other side. 

Because the view is always better at the top.

Online or In Person, Our Conference Is Connected

Online or In Person, Our Conference Is Connected

ac2021 unity

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Have you ever been to a hybrid Annual Conference, one that takes place both in-person and online? Do you know of any other Annual Conferences that are having hybrid events? Did you even know such a thing was possible?

Last week, the Arkansas Annual Conference held its annual meeting of business, worship, and fellowship. The June 2-4 meeting was in an entirely new format, one that we have never attempted before, and if we’re being honest, one that we weren’t entirely certain would work.

Although we had successfully completed an entirely virtual Annual Conference experience last year in 2020, adding an in-person layer to the event created a completely new layer of complexity.

But it worked! Our tech crew and backstage staff faced a few hiccups at the beginning, but once all the tech demons were exorcised, the event ran flawlessly, perhaps better than we could have imagined.

People attending in-person at the arena were able to hear and see virtual participants on our big projector screens near the main stage. When the Bishop spoke on his stage microphone, or when someone came to a mic in the crowd, the Zoom participants were able to hear them as well. It was sort of like a TV news station going to a reporter on the scene of an event for a live report.

One of the biggest advantages of pulling off this hybrid event was the sense of connectionalism and fellowship that it brought everyone attending the event. Whether online or in-person, you were able to see and hear people who many of us have been separated from since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

COVID protocols were still in place for our in-person members, but those who had been fully vaccinated were able to hug their friends and colleagues for the first time in more than a year. For some, this was the first time they had seen many of their fellow United Methodists in person since Annual Conference 2019!

Despite the pandemic continuing to spread through our communities — granted, at a much slower rate than before vaccinations become available — the Arkansas Annual Conference was able to bring some semblance of normalcy back to our people.

I don’t have to tell many of you how important connectionalism plays in our United Methodist heritage. The pandemic not only devastated people’s lives, but it also devastated their connection to their communities.

Technology kept us connected last year, true, but it’s simply not the same as seeing your friends and neighbors in person, being able to hug their necks, squeeze their arms, and see their facial expressions in person when you recall a funny story from the past.

The hybrid experience was difficult, perhaps one of the most difficult things we’ve ever attempted at an Annual Conference, but it was worth the added struggle to be able to offer people that sense of community and connectionalism that they have sorely missed in the last year. I hope that if you attended Annual Conference this year, whether live or online, you felt some of that normalcy return. And let’s continue to pray for COVID to be defeated so we can return to full in-person fellowship at Annual Conference 2022.

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.

Hope, Prayer, and Understanding in 2021

Hope, Prayer, and Understanding in 2021

light

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

I’m not the biggest fan of making New Year’s resolutions.

I’m not knocking the desire to better myself in ways that benefit my health, finances, empathy toward others, spiritual beliefs, whatever it may be. I just don’t think that waiting until the end of one year and the beginning of another is the best time to make that decision. 

Progressing toward a better version of myself is something that I need to work on throughout the year; otherwise, it’s like deciding to finally start sprinting on the last 10 meters of a 100-meter dash — and meanwhile, everyone else has already finished the race ages ago.

But this year, I decided that maybe making a New Year’s resolution wasn’t such a bad idea, considering what this year brought to not just my life but the entire world.

So in 2021, for the first time in a while, I set a resolution for myself: I’m going to make a point to be more hopeful, prayerful, and understanding than I’ve been in years past.

Hopeful

I don’t have to revisit the many, many ways in which 2020 was devastating. We’re still living through it, and many things are still uncertain in 2021. 

But I am hopeful that this year will be the year that the church grows and progresses in ways that we haven’t seen in hundreds of years. The virus has already forced churches to pivot to a new online reality that most were not prepared for, and just because we have a chance to return to in-person worship once again, that doesn’t mean that everything learned this year can be tossed aside and forgotten. 

Online worship is here to stay; in fact, I believe it’s the inevitable future for churches to be sustainable and relevant once again in our communities.

Of course, I’m also hopeful for an end to the pandemic and that lives will be saved from the virus that has taken more than 350,000 Americans from us in 2020. The two vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer give me a glimmer of hope that an end to the darkness is within reach.

Prayerful

I’ve talked about how my prayer life has weakened over the years and how I long to strengthen that part of my faith again.

In 2021, I want to make an effort to pray more about the things that worry me and cause me anxiety.

I also want to pray more about the things that bring me joy and comfort, and remind myself that despite the pain of 2020, 2021 brings a chance for new and better things to arise.

Understanding

And finally, my last resolution is to try to understand those who think differently from me.

I recently had a conversation with some very good friends about how difficult it is to understand people who have different beliefs than I do. Whether that’s political, religious, or moral beliefs, I have a tough time understanding their justifications for believing a certain way that goes against my own views.

It’s even more difficult these days to have a conversation with a person who thinks and believes in a polar opposite way than we do because we’ve become such argumentative and partisan people.

But through this conversation with friends, I began to understand that people make decisions either based on love or fear, and the “crazy” beliefs that some people have might not be so crazy after all. They most likely are making their decisions because they think they are doing what’s best for them, their family, or their friends, and, in fact, it’s the same way I make decisions.

By hoping for more understanding, I’m not saying that I will change how I believe or how they believe. But having more understanding means that maybe we can start to have pleasant and engaging conversations with each other once again, and leave behind the partisan bickering, yelling, and name-calling that have dominated our culture in recent years.

There’s no doubt that 2020 was an awful year. It’s undoubtedly the worst year I can remember living through. But 2021 brings new hope for a broken world. I hope that you’ve set resolutions for 2021 as well, and by holding onto that hope of new beginnings, we can surely get through this new year together.