06/29/2016 Farewell, Monroe United Methodist Church!

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The much-anticipated day is finally here! Josh Dalton becomes the pastor of Monroe UMC today!

Just disregard the smaller letters on the church sign that spell out my name. They will be gone before very long.

I wish to thank the members of the congregation who have supported me as pastor these past 9 years. It has been an honor to serve you.

As I have mentioned in sermons, announcements, and blog posts weeks ago, I am not allowed to have any further contact whatsoever with members of the congregation unless the members make a special request through the new pastor. The request must come directly to me from him.  Not only will I not interfere, I will also go to great lengths to avoid the appearance of interfering. If you think less of me for abiding by this policy, so be it.

It probably sounds arrogant and presumptuous for me to say this, but I ask that members of Monroe UMC not attend services elsewhere in order to see and hear me preach, teach or do dramatic portrayals if it means missing a service at Monroe UMC in order to do so. I know that my critics will get a good laugh out of the thought that anyone would want to do that.  I hope that you hear my heart in all of this.

I bid all the members of Monroe UMC farewell. I really do mean that. I hope that each member of the congregation will “fare well” and that your ministry as a congregation will “fare well.”  I will miss each of you whether you believe me or not.

Here are some of the sights inside Monroe UMC that I will miss seeing so I took pictures of them yesterday.

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This is the final post from me on this blog site which I am retiring as of today. By the way, if you are interested in reading posts on my new blogsite, here is a link: Grace Upon Grace Blog Site.

Question:
What is one of your most cherished memories of our time together?

Please post your answer and any other comments to this blog site.

Here is an image of one of my most cherished memories:  Bishop Young Jin Cho coming to worship with us and preach to us exactly two years ago today and exactly two years after the destructive derecho went through our area!
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Today’s music video features Mark Schultz.
Remember Me

God bless you!

Grace Upon Grace.
Pastor George

06/28/2016 Little or No Fruit

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Today is my last full day as the appointed pastor of Monroe United Methodist Church.  I will be making numerous farewell telephone calls and a few farewell pastoral visits even though today is a vacation day for me.

The picture above is of a 10 inch stack of sermon manuscripts and pastoral prayers on a shelf in the pastor’s study from the nine years I have served as the congregation’s pastor.  Clearly, it is time for me to leave this congregation because there is no more room in that stack on that shelf for more sermon manuscripts and pastoral prayers!

During my tenure as Monroe UMC’s pastor, there have been a total of 470 Sundays.  On eight of those Sundays, worship services were cancelled due to snow, ice or a power outage from a derecho.  On three other Sundays, I was too ill to show up.  I took a total of 31 Sundays on vacation, including this past Sunday when I swapped pulpits with another pastor.  There were six other Sundays when I was absent due to the Virginia Annual Conference being in session.  That means I was present on 422 Sundays.

I preached a total of 367 sermons and presented dramatic portrayals of Biblical characters a total of 31 times as Monroe UMC’s pastor.  During 11 other Sunday worship services, I offered Lectio Divina rather than preach a sermon.  There were 4 other Sundays when other parts of the worship service ran so long that I did not preach the sermon I had prepared.

During the past 9 years, I have baptized 7 children and 1 adult.  I have conducted only 4 weddings, but dozens of funerals and memorial services.  I received a total of 14 professing members:  12 by transfer from other congregations and 2 by profession of faith.  I have administered the Sacrament of Holy Communion in the sanctuary more than 125 times, and I have anointed persons with oil for healing and wholeness in Sunday worship services at least 3 times.

Since the destructive derecho on June 29, 2012, I have made more than 2,590 pastoral visits in homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and work places.  I have led hundreds of Bible studies, Sunday School class lessons, and prayer meetings.  I have been a part of serving at least a dozen meals at the Park View Community Mission and leading devotions and leading singing while there.

All of that may seem impressive to you on paper.  Sadly, however, the Cabinet of the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church sees little or no fruit as a result of my pastoral ministry.  As a result, I am not receiving a projected full-time pastoral appointment within commuting distance of my 91 year-old mother, who needs my attention while she is receiving hospice care for severe dementia in a memory care unit.  Sadder still, the lay leadership of Monroe United Methodist Church does not see enough fruit for me to continue as their pastor. Four veteran leaders of the congregation wrote letters to the congregation’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee and to our district superintendent back in January strongly recommending a change in pastors. Their recommendation has been followed.

Question:
Because of the apparent lack of fruit in my pastoral ministry at Monroe United Methodist Church, would you recommend that I retire or would you recommend that I surrender my ministerial credentials?

Please post your responses to this question and all other comments to this blog site.

Today’s music video features Dennis Jernigan.
If I Could Just Sit with You a While

Grace Upon Grace,
Pastor George

06/27/2016 Sometimes the Sweetness Comes Later!

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I had the blessed experience earlier this month to go to the Sight & Sound Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to attend a performance of Samson. What a production it was!

Yes, I have heard and read the narrative about Samson from the book of Judges for decades, but seeing this stage production really brought this character alive for me.

Then, earlier this morning, I read that Lynn Dyke, the Ozarks District Superintendent in the Missouri United Methodist Conference, used the story of Samson recently in the Service of Sending Forth at the end of their annual conference session in a most brilliant way.  She pointed out that in the midst of the story of Samson’s ill-fated first marriage was the honey in the carcass of the lion Samson had killed.  In the midst of death and destruction and impulsive behavior and revenge and brokenness, there was some sweetness.

According to an article in the online edition of The Missouri Methodists, Lynn Dyke “said those pastors who were about to move churches would face lions as would the pastors who were staying at the churches where they are. She encouraged them to remember the goodness that can come from hard times. ‘That’s the promise of God – that’s the radical hospitality and love of God. It’s the resurrection story isn’t it? Out of the toughest moments of life come sweetness and hope and new life.‘”

Perhaps I should not be bold enough to express this publicly, but I have witnessed over the past few months a lot of impulsive behavior and brokenness both in the local church and in the Virginia Annual Conference.  Because of that, I am very grateful for Lynn Dyke’s message from the narrative of Samson.  By the way, here is another quote from the article about her recent message.

“Now you and I could shake our heads at the tragedy of the story, and you might even be wondering what this story says about us,” Dyke said. “Yet I would suggest the real tragedy is that the story is not all that uncommon. I mean, every one of us has acted without thinking at some time or the other. And I’m pretty sure some of us have forgotten some sacred vow and promise. And we’ve probably all acted foolishly in our hurt and out of revenge. And aren’t every single one of us set apart to be holy, to be God’s people, and yet haven’t we too gotten caught by sin in our lives. The story is not all that uncommon.”

Sometimes the sweetness comes later.  I experienced it yesterday at Monroe United Methodist Church on my final Sunday as the congregation’s pastor.  A person (who had stood up and left a worship service in April 2015 right after it was announced at the beginning of the service that I would be returning for my ninth year as the congregation’s pastor) came over to me and embraced me in a hug while telling me goodbye.  Earlier yesterday, a man who had told me in August 2015 that he would not be returning to the church until I was no longer the pastor, was in attendance and was civil to me.

The healing at Monroe United Methodist Church has begun! Sometimes the sweetness comes later.

Question:
What do you think of Lynn Dyke’s use of the narrative of Samson to say that we all face lions and that out of the toughest moments in life come sweetness and hope and new life?

Please post your responses to this question and all other comments to this blog site.

Today’s video is a brief “teaser” of the 2016 production of Samson.
2016 Samson Teaser

Grace Upon Grace,
Pastor George

06/26/2016 What a Sunday!

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My last Sunday as the appointed pastor of Monroe United Methodist Church has been very eventful!

First, I worshipped at Rustburg United Methodist Church during their 10:00 AM service.  I could write an entire blog post about that experience.  It was a service where I encountered God through the song of a gifted vocalist who accompanied herself on guitar.  Then I preached a sermon to the congregation that they will not soon forget.

Following the conclusion of that service, I drove to Monroe United Methodist Church in time to catch the last 20 minutes of the 10:45 AM service of worship.  The pastor of Rustburg UMC and I had exchanged pulpits for the day, but because of the 45 minute difference in starting time, I was able to hear the last part of his sermon.

After the service, I learned that one of the members of the church had become ill at the start of the service and was rushed by the Amherst County Life Saving Crew to the emergency room.  I had actually noticed his wife driving toward Lynchburg as I was making my way to Monroe.  I wondered why is she heading toward Lynchburg during the worship service? The irony was that this man and his family were to grill the hamburgers and hot dogs for a meal after the service.  They had made most of the preliminary arrangements for the meal.

We enjoyed the meal after the service out on the pavilion.  Others pitched in to do the grilling and final preparations for the meal.  After cleanup, I moved some of my remaining personal items from the pastor’s study at the church.  Rebecca and I then headed to the hospital where we checked on another member who had surgery a few days ago, then we waited until we could visit the member who had become ill during the worship service.  We shared many laughs together, and I showed the couple pictures from the meal that they had prepared extensively for but missed.  After praying, Rebecca and I left as he awaited to be taken for more diagnostic imaging.

Oh, I forgot to mention that during the worship service, the renaming of the monthly prayer luncheon for its founder and organizer took place.  You can see an image of the framed certificate below.

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As I was writing the previous paragraph, I just learned that the youngest baptized member of the congregation is being taken to the emergency room.  He is 10 months old. I also learned that the member that had been in the emergency room is now at home after being diagnosed and discharged.

Time for me to head back to the emergency room.

What a Sunday!

Today’s music video features Chuck Girard.
Busy Day

Grace Upon Grace,
Pastor George

06/25/2016 Historic Sunday Tomorrow

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Kathleen Phlegar, picture taken in 2013, when she was 95.

Tomorrow will be historic for Monroe United Methodist Church!

The guest speaker at the 10:45 AM service of worship will be The Reverend Sung Woon Yoo, who serves as pastor of Rustburg United Methodist Church.  He will be the first Korean to preach on Sunday morning at Monroe UMC since Bishop Young Jin Cho preached at Monroe UMC on June 29, 2014.

It will be historic tomorrow because for the first time in many years, a group within the congregation is being named in memory of a member of the church who has claimed the promise of the resurrection.  This time the group is not a Sunday School class (such as the Perkins Sunday School class or the Julia Beasley Sunday School Class) but is the monthly prayer luncheon, which began in the early months of 2007.  Tomorrow during the 10:45 AM worship service, this prayer luncheon will be formally named in a liturgical act as the Phlegar Prayer Luncheon in memory of Kathleen Watson Anderson Phlegar, the founder and first leader of the group.  Kathleen was 97 years young when she claimed the promise of the resurrection on December 24, 2015.

Tomorrow is also the first casual Sunday of the summer, with a meal after the service scheduled out on the pavilion, weather permitting.  Hamburgers and hot dogs will be provided by the Allen family.  The congregation is requested to bring trimmings and side dishes.

Tomorrow is also the last Sunday that Monroe UMC will be a full-time “station” church on the Lynchburg District, at least for the foreseeable future.  Effective June 29th, Monroe UMC becomes part of a new cooperative parish, Monroe-St. James, and the cooperative parish will be served by a brand new “part-time” local pastor, Josh Dalton, on a less-than-full time basis.  Josh, who was licensed as a local pastor in a service in Roanoke last Saturday night, will serve the cooperative parish on “3/4 time” basis in addition to being a student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

Monroe UMC became a station church back in 1984 after many years of being on a pastoral charge with Bethany UMC.  At that time, the average worship attendance was 100.  Thus far in 2016, the average worship attendance is 29 (or 28 if you count January 24th when roads were still covered by snow and no service was held) which means average worship attendance has decreased by more than 70% over the past 32 years.   As recently as 2013, the average worship attendance stood at 48.

Question:
What do you think will be the keys to Monroe UMC growing in worship attendance,  in spiritual vitality, in mission, and in influence in the community as a new pastor comes to serve the congregation?

Please post your responses to this question and all other comments to this blog site.

Today’s music video features Wendy Whitehead.
Come, Now Is the Time

Grace Upon Grace,
Pastor George

06/24/2016 Time and Eternity

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Warning:  reading this post may blow your mind!

This is the third in a series of posts on the nature of space and time.  For your convenience here are links to the first two posts in this series.
06/22/2016 “There’s No Time Like the Present”
06/23/2016 Einstein’s View of Time: A Convincing Illusion

Many years ago I had the good fortune of being introduced to the writings of Arthur C. Custance.  Many readers of this blog post may not have ever heard of him before.  If that is the case for you, I consider it my great joy and privilege to introduce his writings to you.  His writings can be found free of charge online at http://www.custance.org/index.php, and you can find a bio of him there as well.

One subject about which Custance wrote is “Time and Eternity.” The following material comes from his writings on this subject from his book by that title in chapter 4 of Part I.

Some passages, because of their familiarity to most readers, will at once come to mind in support of the view that God lives outside the ordinary limitations of time as we experience it. For example there is the Lord’s remarkable statement, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). If we make the period before Abraham to be represented by the letter A, Abraham’s time by the letter B, and the Lord’s time of speaking by the letter C, we have the three periods A, B, C amalgamated as one and the tenses confused as though C preceded A. What we might have expected to find would have been the words, “Before Abraham was, I was” — which would have satisfied our normal sense of time. But this is not what the Lord said. What He did say is much more significant and is evidence of His living outside of time.

It seems desirable, even at the risk of being repetitious, to re-state this situation again in slightly different terms. The subject of the conversation had been the patriarch Abraham. The Lord took Abraham’s time as the pivot and spoke of two periods balanced on either side, namely, the ages which preceded Abraham, and all that followed (including the present). He then deliberately picked up the present and put it back before Abraham, but still referred to that distant period in the present tense. Though it was centuries ago, to Christ it was “now.” Even if He were here today, He would still refer to the time before Abraham as the “present” time. Why? Because He is God, and to God there is no passage of time, but all is “present.” The reaction of the Jewish authorities to His statement suggests that in some strange way they had understood what He meant. The mystery of God’s name, as revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:13,14 “the One who is existing always in the present” is unlocked here and undoubtedly determined the Lord’s choice of words in speaking to the Jews.

Question:
Do you find it comforting or disturbing that Jesus claimed that “Before Abraham was, I am?”

Please post your responses to this question and all other comments to this blog site.

Today’s video features Francis Chan.
Illustration of Eternity

Grace Upon Grace,
Pastor George

06/23/2016 Einstein’s View of Time: A Convincing Illusion

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Warning:  this blog post may blow your mind!

Today’s post is the second in a series of posts on the nature of space and time.  If you would like to refer back to the first post in this series, here is a link:  06/22/2016 “There’s No Time Like the Present”.

I promised at the end of yesterday’s post to share in this post Albert Einstein’s view of time.  The following quotation is taken from a webpage (http://everythingforever.com/einstein.htm) that is part of a website by Gevin Giorbran, the author of Everything Forever.

Surprising as it may be to most non-scientists and even to some scientists, Albert Einstein concluded in his later years that the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously. In 1952, in his book Relativity, in discussing Minkowski’s Space World interpretation of his theory of relativity, Einstein writes:
“Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.”

Einstein’s belief in an undivided solid reality was clear to him, so much so that he completely rejected the separation we experience as the moment of now. He believed there is no true division between past and future, there is rather a single existence. His most descriptive testimony to this faith came when his lifelong friend Besso died. Einstein wrote a letter to Besso’s family, saying that although Besso had preceded him in death it was of no consequence, “…for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

A long time before Einstein lived (oops, that is only a convincing illusion!) the following words were written in the book of the Hebrew Bible many of us know as “Ecclesiastes.”  Here is Ecclesiastes 3:15 in the New Revised Standard Version.

That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

Question:
What do you think of Einstein’s statement in his letter to Besso’s family?

Please post your responses to this question and all other comments to this blog site.

Today’s music video features Jim Croce.
Time In a Bottle

Grace Upon Grace,
Pastor George

06/22/2016 “There’s No Time Like the Present”

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Warning:  reading this blog post may blow your mind!

Dear reader, you and I may not know what we think we know!  To put that another way, what you and I are sure of may not, in fact, be true!

I can already hear some of you groaning with dissatisfaction.  One or more of you who intended to read this entire blog post are now having second thoughts and may not read much further.  Why?  Because some persons, including some readers of my blog posts, do not really like to be challenged!  Some persons, including some readers of my blog posts, are relatively superficial thinkers.  Other persons, including some readers of my blog posts, are too overwhelmed by their current circumstances to dive into deeper waters of thinking and prefer to stay at the shallow end of the pool of thought.  They simply don’t want to get into water that may require them to exert effort to stay afloat.

By the way, all that I have written in this post so far was simply the introduction to the main point of this blog post.

“There’s no time like the present.”  This adage was first recorded in 1562.  We often use it to mean “Go ahead and do it now.” One author included this adage in a children’s book of rhyme published in 2004.

“There’s no time like the present,
No present like time.
And life can be over in the space of a rhyme.
There’s no gift like friendship
And no love like mine.
Give me your love to treasure through time.”
― Georgia Byng, Molly Moon’s Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure

However, this adage, “There’s no time like the present,” can also be used to describe one of several philosophical views of space and time. Welcome to the deep end of the pool! Grab a flotation device quickly if you cannot swim!

Here is the introductory paragraph on one webpage (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_space_and_time) to the subject of “Philosophy of space and time.”

Philosophy of space and time is the branch of philosophy concerned with the issues surrounding the ontology, epistemology, and character of space and time. While such ideas have been central to philosophy from its inception, the philosophy of space and time was both an inspiration for and a central aspect of early analytic philosophy. The subject focuses on a number of basic issues, including whether or not time and space exist independently of the mind, whether they exist independently of one another, what accounts for time’s apparently unidirectional flow, whether times other than the present moment exist, and questions about the nature of identity (particularly the nature of identity over time).

Did you notice the reference to “whether times other than the present moment exist” in the quoted section? Now, let me quote another paragraph from the same webpage about the writings of St. Augustine on time.

In Book 11 of St. Augustine’s Confessions, he ruminates on the nature of time, asking, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.” He goes on to comment on the difficulty of thinking about time, pointing out the inaccuracy of common speech: “For but few things are there of which we speak properly; of most things we speak improperly, still the things intended are understood.” But Augustine presented the first philosophical argument for the reality of Creation (against Aristotle) in the context of his discussion of time, saying that knowledge of time depends on the knowledge of the movement of things, and therefore time cannot be where there are no creatures to measure its passing (Confessions Book XI ¶30; City of God Book XI ch.6).

Question:
Do you think that your own view of the nature of space and time makes any difference in the way that you live from day to day within time?

Please post your responses to this question and any other comments to this blog post RIGHT NOW!

Tomorrow:  Albert Einstein’s view of time.  Well, if there is such a thing as “tomorrow!”

Today’s video features Pink Floyd.  (Yes, I know that you saw that coming!)
Time

Grace Uoon Grace,
Pastor George

06/21/2016 I Am a Broken Vessel

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In yesterday’s post, I wrote about my daily discipline of praying while race walking for at least one hour.  I mentioned that I often receive spiritual direction during this time.  This blog post today is an example of that; it was actually birthed during my walking and praying earlier this morning.

I am a broken vessel.  I leak. I do not state this in order to elicit compassion or pity from anyone reading this.  I expect to receive neither compassion nor pity from anyone, particularly from those who have hurt me, either intentionally or unintentionally.  I expect that every one of them will think, “It is your fault, George, for feeling wounded.”

I am a broken vessel.  I leak.  I have learned that at the present time in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church there is no place for this broken vessel to serve in a full-time pastoral appointment that is within reasonable commuting distance from my home in Lynchburg, Virginia where my 91 year-old mother who has severe dementia also lives in a memory care unit and receives hospice care.  As her power of attorney, I make all of her legal, financial and medical decisions.

I am a broken vessel.  I leak.  As of June 30th, I will have no income and no benefits while on a voluntary leave of absence for family leave. The District Superintendents and Bishop discussed my request for insurance benefits on May 25th.  I received the following Facebook message privately from the Lynchburg District Superintendent after that discussion.

The Cabinet discussed your request for funds and after discernment said they couldn’t but recommended applying to Preachers Relief Fund managed by Bob Casey. They are hopeful this fund could help you.

I am a broken vessel. I leak. I learned recently that the Cabinet will not recommend any financial support to come out of the Virginia Conference budget for any clergy who turns down any projected full time appointment. This was publicly stated by The Reverend Bob Parks on behalf of the Cabinet on Sunday morning during Annual Conference in Roanoke. Back in March, I turned down a projected full time appointment that is located more than 3 hours away from where my mother lives in Lynchburg. Therefore, the Cabinet “couldn’t” grant my request for funds for insurance coverage.

I am a broken vessel. I leak. I will, to the best of my ability, honor my mother by being attentive to her and fulfilling my covenant to serve as her power of attorney until she claims the promise of the resurrection. It saddens me that the Cabinet wishes me well but does not have enough confidence in me to serve in any full time pastoral appointment within commuting distance of my mother. They do not discern any outward call for me to serve in full time pastoral ministry in The United Methodist Church within commuting distance of my mother nor do they discern that it would be pleasing to God to recommend any funding for insurance coverage.

I do not know this to be a fact but I suspect that every member of the Cabinet is also a broken vessel and leaks.

Question:
Do you know of anyone who is not a broken vessel and does not leak?

Please post your responses to this question and all other comments to this blog site.

Today’s music video features Hillsong Worship.
Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)

Grace Upon Grace,
Pastor George

06/20/2016 Glory to God! 1461 Days!

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On June 21, 2012 I began a daily discipline of racewalking and prayer for at least one hour. By the grace of God, I have now done that every day for a full quadrennium of 1,461 days! Glory to God!

When I began this discipline, my hope was to do so for 100 consecutive days. When I reached that goal, I set a new goal of extending it for a full year. By the grace of God, I reached that goal and set a new goal of doing it for as long as I could.

This is not about me, although some readers may yield to the temptation of thinking that I am making it about me. That may be your perception, but it is not my intention.

There have been many days where I was out of town away from home and attending seminars, educational events or conferences and had no option of walking indoors. Had it been raining, snowing, storming, etc. outdoors, the streak would have ended. Had my health not been good, I could not have kept the streak going. However, God always provided a time and a place for me to walk and pray for at least one hour outdoors on those days. On other days when the weather prevented me from walking outdoors, God always provided an indoor walking track or shopping mall or other indoor option within commuting distance.

By the grace of God, I have racewalked while praying during the past four years in the states of Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland and Pennsylvania while in those states for vacation or continuing education events. Of course, most of the days I have walked in my hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, but I have walked in dozens of other cities or counties in Virginia as well. So far in 2016 alone, I have walked in a total of 23 different locations including on my own backyard patio while several inches of snow still covered roads in my neighborhood. I have walked and prayed inside the fellowship hall of the church I serve as pastor, around the paved area of the motel where I stayed this past weekend in Roanoke during Annual Conference, on the indoor track at Virginia Wesleyan College, and on a trail at Deep Run Park in Richmond to name just a few.

This has been one of my physical and spiritual disciplines as a United Methodist clergy person. It has been the primary way that I have lived out my prayer covenant daily in response to United Methodist Bishop Young Jin Cho’s invitation and challenge to Virginia Conference United Methodists to spend at least one hour daily in prayer or practicing some other spiritual discipline. I have often received spiritual direction, sermon ideas, and other ideas for ministry during these daily walks.

Question:
Can you share with readers of this blog post some of the daily spiritual disciplines that you practice?

Please post your response to this question or any other comments to this blog site.

Today’s music video features a song from “Godspell.”
Day By Day

Grace Upon Grace,
Pastor George