Friday, June 24, 2016


   Like most clergy, I have this recurring dream (more like a nightmare, really) where I'm late for worship.  The exact circumstances for my distress vary. Sometimes I can’t locate the manuscript of my unforgettable, yet unmemorable sermon.  Sometimes I can’t unlock the front door of the church to get inside.  Still other times, I’ll still be stuck in terrific traffic when the opening hymn is scheduled to be sung (tip: never take the George Washington Bridge to church!). 

   Regardless of the particulars, the overarching theme for all of these troubling dreams is that I’m running late and, for whatever reason, simply cannot get to the pulpit on time for the beginning of the Sunday worship service that I’m supposed to lead.

   I bring this up to you today because I had “The Dream” again last night.  Only this time, it DIDN’T involve a misplaced sermon manuscript, or getting to the elevated wooden pulpit on time, or anything else related to traditional Sunday morning service in a officially sanctioned sanctuary.  Last night, for some reason, the conflict arose from my inability to get to my live-feed, faith-based podcast on time!

   I wrote “for some reason”, but now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure of the reason.

   You see, hours earlier, I had been sitting in my favorite fast food joint (rhymes with “Taco Bell”) when the older fella at the table in front of mine stood up, walked over to the condiment counter, grabbed a handful of napkins and then stashed them in his back pocket.

    Or at least, he tried to. 

    I don’t know if the wad of napkins was too thick or his pants pocket was too small for this mission to be accomplished. All I know is that the poor guy tried, mindlessly and unsuccessfully, to put the same  bunch of napkins into the same back pocket 8 times in a row! 

   Without looking, without thinking, and without success, the man just kept doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

    Sound familiar, Church? 

  Someone just emailed me yesterday that out of all the Annual Conferences in the whole world, ours has experienced the worst percentage drop in worship attendance over the last 2 years!

   Now, I’m no marketing expert, but the words “worst“ and “worship” should never be used in the same sentence - especially in relation to your Annual Conference.   Amen?

   I’m also no psychologist, so maybe when it comes to dreams, a napkin is just a napkin.  But what if a paper napkin is really a metaphor for a manuscripted sermon, or an old wooden pulpit, or immovable pews, or a long-robed choir singing a 250 year-old anthem born of Mother Europe?  And what if a back pocket really represents the ever-increasing number of unchurched folk who are living and playing but not worshipping in our communities?


  Do we really wanna keep preaching the same sermons, singing the same anthems/hymns, reading the same liturgies, following the same order of worship, having the same meeting, conducting the same stewardship drive, scheduling the same fundraisers, using the same evangelistic approach over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again without looking, without thinking, and without success?

    I wouldn’t dream of it!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Mom taught me that there is time for every matter under heaven – and that time is usually between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.  That is to say, she considered it improper, or at least impolite, to call someone on the phone before 8 in the morning or after 9 in the evening.  For the most part, I have tried to abide by those restrictions.

But at 6:31 a.m. (on Sunday no less!), I picked up my cell phone and reached out to Debi, my older sister, and asked if everyone was all right.  You see, she lives in Orlando, Florida, and just hours earlier, her adopted city had borne witness to one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. 

Debi has lived in Orlando since she graduated high school back in the 70’s.  Now that I think about it, I don’t know exactly why she re-located from Long Island – except maybe because the weather in “The City Beautiful” is mostly gorgeous, the people are generally lovely, and there is no state income tax. 

After all, that’s why I moved to Orlando!  Plus, my big sis was there.  Which meant that I could crash on her couch while I looked for an apartment, a roommate, and a job. 

Well, in no time at all, I managed to find a skeevy apartment (the community pool had several abandoned, three-wheeled shopping carts in it), a roommate named “Reb” (who, it turned out, was a Holocaust survivor), and a job washing dishes and tending bar…at a nightclub in Orlando. 

“…at a nightclub in Orlando”.   Sigh.

How many times have we heard that phrase this week? 

And how many times have towns and cities in this country and around the world suddenly and tragically become synonymous with deadly violence (Tel Aviv, Paris, Brussels, Boston, New York, San Bernardino, Charleston, Aurora, Columbine, Newtown, et al)?

And how many times have we attended hastily-called vigils in our churches, praying for a peace that the world cannot give?

And how many times have we mournfully and respectfully heard the reading of the names of those who perished (Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernandez, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Kimberly Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Jerald Arthur Wright)?

And how many times will Congress pause for a “Moment of Silence”, only to return to business-as-usual 61 seconds later? 

And how many times must the cannon balls fly before they're forever banned?

Sadly, I cannot answer any of those questions. 

However, Debi could answer the question I asked in the early morning hours on Sunday - “Everyone is OK”, she said. 

But she and I both know that no one in Orlando will be OK for a very long time. 

"...and a time to heal." (Ecclesiastes 3:3)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Ordinarily, my blogs take me a couple of days to put together before they see the light of cyberspace.  This one, however, I‘ve been working on for 30 years!

30 years ago this week, I was ordained in the NY Annual Conference.  Like it was yesterday, I recall how beautiful the worship service was, and how ridiculous Wesley’s Historic Questions were.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the ordination process, it’s a long and arduous journey that includes a Master’s Degree, an extensive background check, a thorough psychological exam, a presentation of a theological position paper accompanied by a spirited defense thereof, an awesome sermon, and a series of rigorous interviews with Boards and Committees comprised largely of folks who know everything.

If, by some modern Methodist miracle, a candidate successfully navigates past each of those icebergs, they are then paraded in front of their future clergy colleagues so that the Bishop can ask them Wesley’s Historical Questions.

For 29 years in a row, I’ve heard the assembled body laugh (or at least titter) at a couple of Wesley’s more “historic” queries:

      Will you visit from house to house? 
      (I bet Adam Hamilton hasn’t kept this one!)
      Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?
      (Been to seminary lately, Mr. Wesley?)
      Will you never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary?
      (in other words, do not drive on I-95 or the LIE!)

If someone will second my motion, I’d like to move that we update some of Wesley’s Historical Questions to better reflect the reality of ministry in this millennium.  Here are some suggestions, all of which are based on things I’ve unfortunately experienced over the last 30 years:

Would you baptize a child who is scheduled to be removed from life-support in the morning in a Children’s Hospital 200 miles away?  BTW, the father isn’t Christian and the mother doesn’t speak English.

Would you serve communion to a bully who is beating his wife?  Before you answer, you should know that she is kneeling right next to him, with a purple bruise surrounding her left eye.

What would you do if you were the newly appointed pastor to a church where a Sexaholics Anonymous meeting was taking place every Wednesday afternoon in a room next to your church’s pre-school? 

What would you do if the choir at your church sounded absolutely awful?

What would you do if the bride at an outdoor wedding insisted on having her male dog walk her down the aisle, only to have him stop and spray every single chair within “spitting” distance?

What would you do if you caught the teenager of an SPRC member cheating on his/her Confirmation Class final exam?

What would you do if you saw one of your Trustees going through the garbage can outside your parsonage? 

What would you do if you opened a letter addressed to you at the church, asking in letters cut out from a bunch of different magazines so as to be untraceable, “Do you know where your children are?  ALL of them?”?  Included in the letter was the missing picture of your entire Sunday School that used to be pinned to the bulletin board in the Education Building.

What would you do if your much-beloved predecessor left the parsonage uninhabitable?

Tough questions all. 

Nonetheless, if the Bishop asked me at tomorrow’s clergy session, “Ken, knowing now what you didn’t know then about ministry, would you still assent to being ordained?”, I would answer thusly:

“There’s no question about it!”