White folk, it’s time we act

Posted: June 3, 2020 by efenster in Ideas
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The sermon title this past Sunday at the church I attend (Faith United Methodist in Fort Wayne) was entitled, “To Breathe or Not to Breathe, that Is the Question.” Our associate pastor, James Williams, was obviously playing off of famous lines from Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet.” He pointed out that Pentecost was a moment when the very breath of God blew into the lungs of those gathered in Jerusalem, filling them with life and power. He also pointed out that George Floyd, though pleading to breathe, was prevented from doing so by a policeman kneeling on his neck. As a result, he tragically lost his life but unleashed a powerful response across our nation and world.

Since Floyd’s death, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and reflecting, as I’m sure many of you have been doing. My church, which is made up of 50% blacks and 50% whites, regularly talks about and studies racism. This spring I was part of my church’s study of the book entitled, How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. What I’ve come to realize–embarrassingly late in my life–is that racism isn’t going to go away until those of us whites, including me, who have the power, speak out and actively pursue both personal and institutional changes.

Just last week (before the protests) our Church Development Committee had a deep conversation regarding the need to make sure we are intentionally working toward greater inclusion of both women and ethnic minorities in our work. I readily admit, that I was not leading the conversation and that I saw the concern as more of a tangential issue. Why is that? Because it just isn’t on my radar. I accept the status quo as normative. Shame on me!

I have two bi-racial nephews in the city of Chicago who have been terrified especially since George Floyd’s death. They are wanting to leave for fear of what might happen to them. I have a bi-racial neighbor who has been like a family member since he was a boy. He was at the front of the protests in Fort Wayne this past weekend. On Sunday he bared his heart with his congregation as to how hard it is to live as a bi-racial person in a racist, divided world. Why is it that I haven’t been as attuned to the fears of my nephews and the inner turmoil of my neighbor until now? Shame on me!

It is easy for us privileged whites to go about our normal lives totally unaware of the reality that our non-white sisters and particularly brothers are going through every moment of every day. We must speak up! We must act!

I watched part of a Fort Wayne suburban church’s worship service this past Sunday and there was hardly any reference to the racial issues going on. Having attended a predominately white suburban church, I find it’s easy in such a setting to write off racial problems as an inner-city issue, a black issue. Shame on me!

I dream for the day when all our churches–suburban, rural, urban, white, black, and ethnically mixed–are hearing sermons confronting the issue. May we not take our breaths, nor the breaths of our neighbors, for granted. May we use the precious air in our lungs, filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit, and speak out boldly! May we join the growing chorus that shouts, “We are sick with a virus and that virus is racism!” Let us all work together for its eradication.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

How are you doing? How is your church doing? I’m hearing all sorts of things from churches and pastors during these days of the pandemic. I’m hearing amazing stories of churches adapting. I’m also hearing that rather than slowing down, life seems to have sped up, and now many of us are feeling ZOOM fatigue.

In the midst of all this, I’m wondering… How are you and your leadership going to take time to catch your breath and reflect? Many times, Jesus would take time away after a hectic day with the crowds and reflect and pray. When will you and your leaders do this?

What have you learned from your church’s experience during this time of social distancing? Many times we discover what we truly value in times of stress. These are our core values. They guide our decision making. What values have become evident the past six weeks? Are they values upon which Christ can build His church? If not, how will you begin to change them?

As you begin to look ahead, what will you want to take with you? What will church life be like? The United Methodist Church’s church-planting arm, called Path 1, encourages churches to view this time as a unique opportunity to relaunch. In fact, it has resources to help a church to do just that.

What if you don’t stop your virtual worship services once you return to your sanctuary? What if you continue to offer an on-line option? During this period, you probably have attracted persons who are unlikely to show up to your church or who live in other communities but have made connections with your church. How will you minister to your virtual congregation as well as your in-person congregation? How can you intentionally connect virtually with and disciple those who have no interest in church?

We may return to our churches in the coming month, but we’ll not be the same church we were, nor will our world be the same. Jesus talked about how we need to put new wine into new wineskins. Folks this is a “new-wineskin” moment! Let’s not miss the opportunity to rethink church! It’s time to consider relaunching! How will you do that?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

So how can your church maintain worship, connectedness, and ministry in this period of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic? There are a number of high-tech options out there, such as streaming your worship services, but what about smaller churches with fewer resources?

I am a member of one of those churches, Faith United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne. We are worshiping Sundays using ZOOM. ZOOM is a web-based tool that allows folk to connect with one another using their computers or tablets. Someone in the church needs to have a subscription ($14.99 a month), but everyone else can get a ZOOM account at no charge.

The person with the subscription then provides everyone with a special meeting web address (URL) that they put in their web browser at the time of the meeting–e.g. the worship service, Sunday school class, Bible study, Council meeting, etc. Everyone then is able to join the meeting and display a live video stream of themselves to everyone else using their computer or tablet’s built in camera. They also have the option of joining without video using their phone.

So how did this work last Sunday? Our church sent everyone an email explaining that we would worship using ZOOM at our normal time on Sunday morning. They included a web address, which we’ll continue to use for as many Sundays as we have to. Then at 10:15am, people began joining the worship service. We ended up with 31 different households on our screens. Some households had a number of people watching, so we actually were near or normal worship attendance of around 50 people.

It was wonderful being able to see the faces and hear the voices of those I normally see when I’m in our sanctuary. After a time of chit chat and announcements, our worship leader muted our microphones and we began the service. At the appropriate time, our song leader led us in a song accompanied on his guitar from his home, a woman sang a solo a cappella from her living room, another person read scripture and then our pastor preached from her home. We had a period where we were invited to offer our offerings (by mail or electronically) and then sang the doxology. After that we were asked to write down our prayer concerns using a chat tool that’s a part of ZOOM. The person who prayed read each one individually as part of the prayer time. We ended with another song and then received the benediction from our pastor.

Even though we weren’t present physically, it felt as though we truly connected with one another. So if you’re a part of a smaller congregation with not a lot of resources, consider ZOOM-ing your worship service during this pandemic.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

P.S. For a list of other low tech ideas that any-sized congregation can use check out ideas from Rev. Susan Arnold from the Holston Conference in her article entitled, “No Tech, Low Tech.”

I dropped by the store earlier this week for an essential…hairspray. (I am a product of the 80’s after all.) And while there, I saw store shelves being restocked. They were cleaning store shelves as they added frozen food. There were lots of fresh veggies with more in crates to put out, and the milk refrigerators were full.

Even before the last few weeks, I find we often operate in life from a mentality of scarcity. Oddly, I wonder if we do this more than countries that have far less. Yet, the most inspiring (and successful) people, organizations, and ministries seem to be those that operate from an abundance mentality.

The abundance and scarcity picture isn’t to make anyone feel badly. (I am sure I looked like a hoarder getting food for my family which includes a 17-year-old guy.) But, the picture helps to remind me of ways that I can be life giving.

If I am to love my neighbor as myself, what does that look like?

— Jen Hudson, Associate Director of Church Development


Greetings Indiana congregations,

I wanted to let you know that the Center for Congregations is rescheduling all the in-person events on our event calendar through the end of May 2020. In order to continue to provide quality education events, we will move many of these events to a live online format. And we will be offering all our online education events for free (see promotion code below) at least through the end of May 2020. 

You can find out more about this event and register for free using the code FREEONLINE2020 here:


We’ll provide more information about other upcoming free events soon. 

If you have any questions or need anything at all, please reach out to me at this email address. We look forward to seeing you online.


Matt Burke,
Director of Northeast and Education
Center for Congregations

People struggling with addictions, people who love bicycling, people who are hungry for fellowship around a good meal are the type of people that will be reached by five new Fresh Expressions that are launching in Indiana.

The Church Development Committee of the Indiana Conference just approved $1000 Fresh Expressions grants to Meese Chapel and Decatur St. Marks UMCs in the Northeast District, Monon and Fowler UMCs in the Northwest District, and Ruter Chapel UMC in the Southeast District.

These churches are intentionally striving to bring hope and God’s love to people in their communities that are unlikely to show up on a Sunday morning. For example, Meese Chapel is launching A Better Life-Brianna’s Hope joining three dozen other churches in Indiana and Ohio. Brianna’s Hope is a faith-based organization committed to assisting individuals and communities battling addiction, using support, encouragement, and collaboration.

Decatur St. Marks is launching Journey Riders with persons who have a strong passion to share the love of Christ. Layperson John McCullough says that “Through cycling we hope to connect to the lost, build trust, and bring Jesus into their lives slowly and methodically.”

Ruter Chapel is launching The Village, using the dinner-church model of Fresh Expressions. The church’s pastor, Ron Marcoux, says “The Village will provide unchurched and seekers a non-traditional worship setting with a warm meal, live music, and a positive message through testimony and short sermons based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Fowler UMC is launching Fowler Family Dinner. The church discovered that single older adults in particular are food insecure in Benton County and so the church is setting the table especially for them. Monon UMC has launched a community meal where their members host tables and connect with those who join them, like a “seeker” family of seven that came last month.

Praise God for these churches that have a heart for those in their community who are in need of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Of course there are many other churches that are launching similar efforts. If your church is one of them, please share your story with us. Also, know that Fresh Expressions training is available March 7th at Muncie Union Chapel and May 2 at South Bend Clay UMC. Go to Vision Days for information and registration. Indiana UMs can get a 50% off the regular price if you act right away!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

In a recent article entitled, “Where will the next decade take religion?” Ryan Burge* points out that if trends continue, by 2029 the “Nones” (those unaffiliated with any religion) will surpass other religious groups. He also says that Protestant churches, including The United Methodist Church, will see their percentage of the population, which was 30% in 1970, drop below 5% by 2030–again, if present trends continue.

Globally The United Methodist Church has been growing annually for years; however, in the United States, its numbers continue to decline, mirroring other Protestant denominations. Although it still is the largest Protestant denomination in Indiana, will that be the case in 2030? Presently 10% of Hoosiers are a part of The United Methodist Church. In ten years, will that figure drop in half as Professor Burge suggests?

Bishop Julius Trimble

I believe God is doing a new thing that has the potential of bucking the projected trend. That new thing is a growing missional movement taking place among Indiana United Methodist churches. For the past four years Indiana’s Bishop, Julius Trimble, and Conference leadership have been encouraging churches to become more missional.

In response, more and more churches are launching Fresh Expressions of church in order to reach and disciple unchurched people in their communities. Over 700 people have attended Fresh Expressions training events offered by the Indiana Conference the past two years, and more Fresh Expressions “Vision Day” trainings are being offered.

In addition, nearly fifty pastors are gathering in six cohort groups around the state to focus on how they might help their churches develop stronger multiplication cultures. It is anticipated that a number of these churches will start new faith communities in the coming months and years, and that they will inspire other churches to join them in multiplying too.

You see God is moving–in our churches, our pastors, in other denominations and organizations, and in our communities. We have a choice. Do we sit on the sidelines anticipating the future of a shrinking UMC, or do we get in the thick of what God is doing and help usher in a new era of the church, an era in which we take the church beyond our walls to those who desperately need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ? I know what I will do. How about you?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

*Burge is an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, where he researches the intersection between religiosity and political behavior in the U.S.

Bishop Julius Trimble, resident bishop of the Indiana Area, recently made a statement regarding a proposal that would separate The United Methodist Church over the human sexuality issues that the denomination has wrestled with for decades. It is expected the proposal will be considered at the General Conference session in Minneapolis in May.

No matter what the outcome, Church Development continues to focus its energy on helping Indiana’s United Methodist Churches to be as vital as possible and to promote a church multiplication movement in the state.

This past fall, seventy-five key leaders came together with Bishop Trimble for a time of intentional prayer, praying for a multiplication movement to be unleashed in Indiana. Since then nearly fifty pastors have been meeting in multiplication cohort groups learning about how to develop a stronger multiplication culture in their churches and to network, encourage, and pray for one another. This year there are at least four Fresh Expressions “Vision Day” training sessions planned throughout the state and an Indiana Conference team is attending a National Fresh Expressions Gathering in April.

All this is to say that in the midst of not knowing exactly where our denomination is headed, United Methodist leaders holding differing views on the human sexuality issues are unified around the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Our prayer is that whatever the outcome in May these leaders and others in our state will continue to work together to that end.

In Christ’s service,

Emily Reece and the Church Development Team

Incarnation of the Spirit

Posted: December 12, 2019 by efenster in Ideas
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I was struck last week by something Rev. Tim Johnson said at a retreat I was at. Tim pointed out that in the Old Testament, God visited people–God meeting Adam and Eve in the garden, Abram and Sarai’s three visitors, Moses and the burning bush. During the period of the Gospels, God came in the flesh as Jesus Christ and walked among the people, the incarnation. And at Pentecost, God entered the people through the Holy Spirit.

He went on to pose this question: Are you intentionally cultivating a deep and profound relationship with the person living inside of you? For most of us at the retreat, we are very familiar with the God who visits and the God who comes (Jesus), but not so familiar with the God who lives inside us (the Holy Spirit). He challenged each us to intentionally get to know the Holy Spirit, to talk directly with the Holy Spirit, to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit better, and to allow the Holy Spirit to lead.

Ironically it took Jesus leaving before the Holy Spirit and its power came to His disciples. Jesus said, “Anyone who has faith in me will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). And right before he ascended from the earth he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). What a a wonder that it took Jesus to de-incarnate in order for the Holy Spirit enter!

So, as we look forward to the miracle of Christmas, the incarnation of Christ, may we also take in the incredible miracle of the incarnation of the Holy Spirit in each of us. And may its power be unleashed through us in incredible, beautiful ways this season.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Are you and your church looking for ways to reach out to those outside your church? Are you looking for a model with a proven track record of effectiveness in reaching the growing percentage of the population who have no interest in church? If so, you’re going to want to attend a Fresh Expressions “Vision Day” training experience.

In 2020, the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church is partnering with Fresh Expressions U.S. to offer the following Vision Days:

  • Southwest District –  February 22 at Blue Grass UMC, Evansville; to register Click Here
  • East District –  March 7 at Union Chapel Ministries, Muncie; to register Click Here  
  • North District – May 2 in South Bend
  • North Central District – September 26

Vision Days are designed to help teams from churches understand this successful missional model of outreach, which is created by the Anglican and Methodist churches in England fifteen years ago and is based on Jesus’s sending of the 72 as recorded in Luke 10.

Over 700 people have attended Fresh Expression training in Indiana through United-Methodist sponsored events, including Vision Days, the past two years. And more and more churches are launching Fresh Expressions of church–dinner churches, messy churches, biker bible studies, kid’s clubs in mobile home communities, bible studies for runners, groups in coffee-shops, bars, YMCAs, and retirement centers. The list goes on and on! Wherever people meet, churches are taking the church to them on their turf in normal natural ways.

If you’ve already attended a Vision Day but need more help, contact me at ed.fenstermacher@inumc.org. Also consider attending the National Fresh Expressions Gathering, April 1-3, 2020, in Reston, VA. Those from the Indiana Conference get $50 off the $149 registration price if registered by November 30th. Contact Ed for details.

Don’t miss out on this new movement of God in Indiana. Plan to attend one of these Fresh Expressions “Vision Days” and bring your friends!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

Rev. Eun-Pa Hong and Ed

Last week, I had the unique opportunity to go on a Congregational Developers Pilgrimage to South Korea with 27 United Methodist leaders from the U.S., including a team from our denomination’s Path 1. Here’s an article they wrote about it. I ditto everything in it! The experience was amazing!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

(P.S. Although I paid my own way, the Indiana Conference graciously viewed my time away as part of my job with the conference rather than vacation. I am so grateful I got this opportunity and certainly learned a lot!)

UM developers group singing at a worship service

Last month, Path1 took a deep dive into Korean Christian spirituality. We traveled to Bupyeong Methodist Church in Incheon City, South Korea. There we were met with extraordinarily radical hospitality. The church housed and fed us for a week. While physical eating kept us satisfied, spirituality fed our souls in a deep and abiding way. Each morning, we attended 5 AM worship that included hymn-singing, scripture, preaching and prayer. We participated in the Korean practice of Tongsung Kido, which means, “praying altogether out loud.” It started with three shout-outs to God and followed with passionate prayer spoken by individuals at the same time. It lasted for 20 minutes. It was cathartic and it was powerful as congregants and leaders alike cried out to God with their innermost supplications.

During our time, we learned at the feet of Rev. Eun-Pa Hong, Senior Minister since 1981, and his team of associate pastors. We learned about Korea, its history and economy, and the revival and growth of the Korean Church. We visited the Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery where missionaries and their families are buried. In many instances, we heard heartfelt thanks for the sacrifice of foreign missionaries who gave their lives to help bring Christianity to the Korean peninsula. We visited the War Memorial of Korea where we learned about the Korean conflict of 1950-1953 and the many lives lost. Music, including the annual festival of choirs, filled our hearts and souls with sacred songs. We are forever grateful for this magnificent opportunity to take a deeper dive into spirituality and for the generous hosts who made every moment special. This experience will inform our own spirituality and infuse our work with a greater measure of the power of prayer.

Bupyeong Methodist Church, Incheon City, South Korea