Welcoming a New Bishop

Welcome home, Bishop John Schol! The Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church officially welcomed our new bishop during a celebratory service, September 18. Participants gathered at the United Methodist Church of West Chester to join in song, prayer, and communion for a live-streamed service.

Diverse leaders throughout the conference offered signs of the episcopal office during the service. Along with the Rev. Kathryn Dinkelacker-Swan, I was honored to offer the towel and basin, representing leadership as service to others.

The symbol of the towel and basin evokes the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-17).

The Rev. Kathryn Dinkelacker-Swan represented the Fellowship of Associate Members and Local Pastors. I represented the Order of Deacons, of which I am chair.

Bishop Schol preached about the call of all Christians to exercise the gifts God has given us, the call on clergy to serve with integrity in the unique way God has called us, and the call to congregations to connect with the community and to be open to the people God is sending our way. Sermon: 1:17:49–1:40:01.

My theology of ministry has deep resonance with Schol’s. This resonance yields much in common and a few points of friendly disagreement.

For my take on vital congregations, see my article in Witness.

For my take on the ministry of all Christians, see my article, “Bivocational Ministry as the Congregation’s Curriculum.”

The Work of Repentance

On the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, I preached from the book of James. “Brothers and sisters, do you . . . really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” James wrote that faith without works is dead. Today, in Santee Chapel at Lancaster Theological Seminary, I explored the work of repentance as a faithful response to 9/11 (with a little help from H. Richard Niebuhr, Donald Shriver, and the United Church of Christ’s Just Peace Pronouncement). Read the text of my sermon on UM-Insight. Additional resources are linked, below.

Todd Green, “’Never Forget’? 9/11 and the Ethics of Memory.” Church Anew, Sept 9, 2021.

Thomas Kemper, “Reflecting on September 11th,” translated by David W. Scott. UM&Global, Sept 10, 2021.

H. Richard Niebuhr, “The Grace of Doing Nothing.” 1932. Republished on www.ucc.org.

Donald W. Shriver Jr., Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Darryl W. Stephens, Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom: Living into the Church’s Moral Witness through Radical Discipleship. New York: United Methodist Women, 2020.

United Church of Christ, “Just Peace Church.” https://www.ucc.org/international-policy/justice_just-peace/.

Bearing Witness on the Anniversary of 9/11

Saturday, I preach at Lancaster Theological Seminary. The assigned text is from the book of James 2:1-10, 14-17. If this passage is not immediately familiar, it is the one that says faith without works is dead. (Can you hear Luther rolling over in his grave?) Saturday is also the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. Which works would you preach about for this occasion?

I will post the full text of my sermon after the service on Saturday. For a hint to my approach, see Module III of my book Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom. It’s the part titled “Historical Clarity.”

Educating Bivocational Ministers

How can institutions of higher learning in theological education respond to an increasing need for bivocational ministry preparation, training, and support? Did you know that nearly 60% of current students surveyed expect to be bivocational in ministry after graduation? And, over 75% believe that bivocational ministry is the future of pastoral ministry.

Read my detailed findings based on survey data taken at Lancaster Theological Seminary. “Preparing to Educate for a Thriving Bivocational Ministry: A Seminary Case Study.” Religions (July 2021), 12(8), 592; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12080592

Trauma and Transcendence: Finding God in the Ashes

My latest research, published today, explores trauma-informed care from a religious ethics standpoint. Psychological trauma is a spiritually disruptive experience. To accompany someone through the aftermath of trauma, we need to be willing to talk about God. In this article, I provide guidance for caregivers and other service providers. Trauma-informed care can become a form of social action in solidarity with the survivor. I use the framework “bearing witness” to describe this action.

“Bearing Witness as Social Action: Religious Ethics and Trauma-Informed Response.” Trauma Care 1, no. 1: 49-63. https://doi.org/10.3390/traumacare1010005

This article is a “Feature Paper” in the first edition of the new journal, Trauma Care.

Keywords: psychological trauma; trauma-informed care; interpersonal trauma; spirituality; bearing witness; religious ethics; solidarity; social action; Judith Herman; relational model; process theology

Book Release: The Practice of Mission in Global Methodism

A timely study of mission in a changing world, addressing migration, neocolonialism, climate change, and many other issues concerning church and society.

The Practice of Mission in Global Methodism: Emerging Trends from Everywhere to Everywhere. Routledge Methodist Studies Series. Co-edited by David W. Scott and Darryl W. Stephens. New York: Routledge, April 2021. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003107002.

Publication date: April 20, 2021.

This book brings together Methodist scholars and reflective practitioners from around the world to consider how emerging practices of mission and evangelism shape contemporary theologies of mission.

Engaging contemporary issues including migration, nationalism, climate change, postcolonial contexts, and the growth of the Methodist church in the Global South, this book examines multiple forms of mission, including evangelism, education, health, and ministries of compassion. A global group of contributors discusses mission as no longer primarily a Western activity but an enterprise of the entire church throughout the world.

This volume will be of interest to researchers studying missiology, evangelism, global Christianity, and Methodism and to students of Methodism and mission.

Contributors include: Joy Eva Bohol, Jeffrey A. Conklin-Miller, Taylor Walters Denyer, Stephen J. H. Hendricks, Sam Kim, Mande Muyombo, Carmen M. Scheuerman, Sheryl Marks-Williams, Nelson Kalombo Ngoy, Jenny Phillips, Hendrik R. Pieterse, Andrea Reily Rocha Soares, David W. Scott, Elmira Sellu, Stephen Skuce, Darryl W. Stephens, Akanisi Tarabe, Mark R. Teasdale, and K. Kale Yu.

My chapter, “Divergent theologies of mission within United Methodism,” observes three distinct, competing expressions of United Methodist mission in the United States: Ecumenical, Traditionalist, and Golden Rule, corresponding to sociological distinctions identified by Nancy Ammerman. Each of these theologies is centered on a different aspect of God’s grace. Ecumenical Methodism views mission as partnership with others for the purpose of cooperation in what God is already doing, centered on prevenient grace. Traditionalist Methodism views mission as evangelism, emphasizing personal witness and individual salvation through Christ alone, centered on justifying grace. Golden Rule Methodism views mission as service and outreach, with a pragmatic focus on meeting human needs, centered on sanctifying grace. The differences in theology of mission are significant, with particular ramifications for interfaith relations, for example, as well as intradenominational politics. Nevertheless, these expressions of mission are not mutually exclusive, inviting the development of a holistic understanding of mission encompassing all three of these expressions.

Doubting Thomas and Bearing Witness

A sermon on John 20:19–31. Preached by Darryl W. Stephens at Otterbein UMC, Lancaster, PA, April 11, 2021.

Thomas was not present with the other disciples when the resurrected Jesus greeted them. Thomas doubted their story. We may share his doubt. How do we testify to someone else’s experience? (Hint: I wore my red stole to represent the Holy Spirit in our midst.)

Sermon time index 30:50–50:25.

Also at Otterbein UMC, I spoke about the ministry of the deacon, February 21, 2021. Viewing index 12:24–16:34.

Trauma-informed Pedagogies

This week, many communities and institutions in the US are observing the one year anniversary of life upended by COVID-19. For teachers in higher education, this anniversary is yet another reminder that trauma-informed pedagogy is essential to healthy life and learning in the classroom.

How different our world and outlook compared to this depiction of “Bright Future” by Norman Rockwell circa 1955! Both of these images were published online, March 9, 2021.

Bright Future for Banking” by Norman Rockwell, circa 1955.
Detail of Untitled, 2021.

Special issue on Trauma-Informed Pedagogies in the Religious Studies Classroom, Spotlight on Teaching, Religious Studies News. March 9, 2021.


Editor’s Introduction
Jessica L. Tinklenberg

What is Trauma? What is a Trauma-Informed Approach?
Darryl W. Stephens

Gender-Based Violence and Muslim Communities: Trauma Processing through Art
Julianne Hammer

Addressing Race in the Classroom: A Trauma-Informed Communal Embodied Practice
Leah Thomas

We Have to Tell the Truth: A Liberative Approach to Trauma-Informed Pedagogy
Oluwatomisin Oredein

Passing by/through/in Written Word
Alexiana Fry

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: Reflections on Running and Teaching
Elizabeth Vasko

Trauma-informed Pedagogy of Courage, Connection, and Celebration: Using the Narrative Exercise of the “Tree of Life”
AHyun Lee

Fostering Collaboration and Agency in an Antiracist, Trauma-Informed Classroom: Creating Community Learning Agreements through Reflective Practice
Ryan Rideau

Breathing | Being | Praying Meditations: The Generative Possibilities of the Arts
Yohana Agra Junker

Critical Reflection Ensuing from Traumatic Events and Ideology Critique
Ella Johnson

In Defense of the Simple Writing Assignment
Liora Gubkin

God is Our Refuge

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change, . . .
“Be still, and know that I am God!”
. . . the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Psalm 46, NRSV

A colleague in ministry called me recently. A phone call! Not a Zoom session, not a scheduled meeting, not an email or text. It was a spontaneous human connection. Her unexpected intrusion into my Monday morning was a welcome reminder that God is with us, a very present help in time of trouble.

We talked about the challenges of life since COVID. We shared what was weighing on our hearts—the difficulties of social distancing, disrupted activities, and stresses on family life. As we talked, I looked out the window of my home office and took notice of in incoming squall. Huge, puffy snowflakes were coming down, quickly and silently covering everything in view, adding to the layers of whiteness I had shoveled only a few days before. The words of the psalmist echoed, though the earth should change . . . .

“I like the snow,” I remarked to my friend as we each stared out our respective windows in wonderment. Snow was upending plans for work and school, adding to our chores for the day. Yet, the disruption seemed to validate the world as it has become. Here was a visible, tangible affirmation of the long winter of COVID we have experienced for nearly a full year. The weather mirrored our reality. God is in the midst of the city.

“Be still, and know that I am God!” Even as God’s battle cry resounds across the earth, we await the cessation of wars. Our troubles are not over. Loved ones continue to die. The nations are in an uproar. Life with COVID has seemed an unendurably long Lent. Would that this wilderness experience last only forty days! Yet, during this season of preparation, we will not fear. God is our refuge and strength. Friends, during this COVID Lent—no matter how many days it may last— the God of Jacob is our refuge. We can be assured of God’s steadfastness even as we lament, grieve, repent, hope, and celebrate. God is big enough to encompass the full range of our human experiences and emotions. The Psalms attest to this. And through worship, liturgy, rituals, and sacraments, the church provides us means to connect with God in all seasons of life. No matter the mode of technology or social distancing, God is with us. God is our refuge and strength.

This post originally appeared in the weekly newsletter of the Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ, March 10, 2021.