Sunday September 18, Rev. Catherine Williams’ sermon “Pray Every Way You Know How.” 1 Timothy 2:1-7


In the huge pile of mail that greeted me upon my return from Trinidad a couple of weeks ago, was a letter from our Bishop, John Schol. Dear Catherine, it began, I understand you are preparing for next year’s full member retreat and examination. You have already been affirmed in your calling and have been leading people to make disciples and grow vital congregations to transform the world, Thank you. A quick glance through the rest of the letter assured me I wasn’t in any trouble – whew! The Bishop actually wrote to offer me words of hope, admonition, encouragement, and support in advance of my upcoming ordination assessment period. His closing words – “Keep the Faith! John.”

When spiritual overseers write to the pastors under their care, their words carry great import for good or for ill. I’d like to think Pastor Timothy felt at least as supported and cared for when he received his letter from his Bishop, Paul, as I felt when I received this letter from my Bishop, John. Bishops or spiritual overseers tend to be rich in faith, grounded in the Scriptures, and seasoned in life and ministry experiences; any instruction they give to those under their care could very well be the Word of the Lord to the minister and to the church.

So we are fortunate this morning to hear this Word from the Lord as we peer over Timothy’s shoulder, reading what his Bishop had to say as he offered words of instruction and administrative guidance to this young leader of the well-established church in Ephesus. Ephesus was a bustling, commercial metropolis in Western Asia Minor; we now call that region Turkey. Paul had left young Timothy in charge of this urban congregation, where philosophical and theological issues were beginning to pose a threat to the faith. So Paul did some fairly close mentoring and coaching in both letters to the young Pastor. In this first letter, just prior to where we begin reading, Paul gives the same exhortation to Timothy as John Schol gave to me – hold on to faith, he says. Hold on to faith and a good th-39conscience. Then he proceeds to suggest how: First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be madeThe Message Bible translation – which provided the title for today’s sermon – puts it this way, The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. The slightly nuanced differences between supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings don’t really warrant separating them into discrete categories of prayer. It was the writer’s way of saying, pray every way you know how.

In our Christian tradition, to pray is essentially to talk to God. If God does not factor into this faith-building practice, we may as well call it a pious little monologue. Furthermore, if God is not expected to have something to say in response to our petitions, supplications, intercessions, or thanksgivings, then…what can I say? You probably know how it feels to have a conversation with someone where you couldn’t get a word in edgewise to save your th-14life? Granted, God’s response in the conversation may take all kinds of delightful or terrifying forms, but that calls for the kind of discernment we only get by the act of prayer, by practicing to pray. Prayer is a conversation; it is being in a place of God-awareness. Keep the faith, Paul tells Timothy; hold on to faith by first of all praying.

You might be saying, “but I don’t know how to pray.” You probably have in mind the eloquent prayers given by clergy or other spiritual leaders in worship. I am happy to clarify that verbal prayer is only one of many, many ways to pray. “How do you pray?” 

Continue reading “Sunday September 18, Rev. Catherine Williams’ sermon “Pray Every Way You Know How.” 1 Timothy 2:1-7”

Message from Bishop Schol

bishop schol back

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Karen Oliveto, a gifted leader, was elected a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. She is a lesbian. This is not the first time a gay or lesbian has been considered for bishop. Bishop Oliveto will serve the Denver area, which includes 386 United Methodist congregations in the states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Last week, she was one of 15 people who were elected as bishops in Jurisdictional Conferences across the United States. Her service as a bishop has been challenged and will be heard before our Judicial Council (the UMC’s Supreme Court).

We elect bishops in the United States in five regions called jurisdictions. Outside the United States, in Europe, Africa and the Philippines similar elections are also held in what are called Central Conferences. It takes 60% of the delegates to elect a new bishop. Delegates are an equal number of clergy and lay persons from annual conferences within the jurisdiction or central conference. There are 66 bishops leading conferences around the world and more than 70 retired bishops.

During the Jurisdictional Conferences, each of the five jurisdictions considered legislation and four of the five jurisdictions in one form or another voted to recommend that the denomination allow for theological diversity and ministry with LGBTQ persons. At the General Conference, a special commission was empowered that would completely examine and possibly recommend revisions of every paragraph in the Book of Discipline related to homosexuality.

There is deep disappointment and even rage within the church that a lesbian was elected bishop. For others, there is profound appreciation and joy. For most there is concern. What will this mean for our beloved United Methodist Church? Will it create a schism? Will it sidetrack us from our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? Some want to know, what does it mean when people openly disobey our rules contained in our Book of Discipline?

Right now we are faced with more questions than answers. A lot of questions are not necessarily a bad thing. Jesus often led with questions and used questions as part of his teaching. Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)  “Can any of you by worrying add a single day to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) “Why are you afraid?” (Matthew 8:26) and “Why do you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). These are just a few of the questions Jesus asked.

Having questions right now is appropriate. Like Jesus’ questions, they give us the opportunity to dive deeper into faith or to turn to a different direction. For me I want to reflect on the questions to deepen my commitment to God, recommit to follow Jesus, grow in my love for the church and reflect so I may become a better disciple in the world. Like other adaptive questions and challenges we face, there is not one right answer but different answers based on scripture, reason, tradition experience and context.

I choose this path because I believe it is a faithful route to the Gospel and because I love the values of The United Methodist Church. I love that our founder John Wesley shaped our values to be:

  • Grace and accountability
  • Evangelism and social witness (mercy and justice)
  • Order and liberty
  • Scripture and experience
  • Discipline and permission

Here are a few quotes from John Wesley that may give you a deeper sense of who we are as United Methodists:

God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.

Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergy or laity; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.

We should be rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others.

Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.

I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.

The best thing of all is God is with us.

I call you into deeper prayer, conversation about our questions, and living our values.

To assist you with this call to action, we have opened a website for you to post your important questions for the church to discuss. Also, we have trained facilitators/coaches in the Circle Process to lead conversations in your congregations, clergy groups, organizations and district groups. For both of these resources you can go to

Our beloved United Methodist Church is changing. Since its earliest days, it has been changing. During the last half of our denomination’s history we have worked through serious controversies, slavery, women’s ordination, segregation, divorce and now homosexuality. The best thing of all is God is with us.

I call you in the midst of change to center yourself spiritually, keep the mission the main thing and ask God regardless of your view of human sexuality, how God is inviting you to change.

As we work through our differences, I pledge to continue to strive to lead by teaching, keeping a steady hand, creating space for difference, honoring those who disagree and not using divisive language like homophobic or unchristian to dismiss someone else’s theology and commitments. I will also not force any pastor to do something against her or his conscience and never force a congregation to receive a pastor who is not a good theological fit. I am a steward of the church that values all people who are gifted, creative and whole.

I call you to be a leader that offers a steady hand, honors people in the midst of difference while maintaining your own convictions and working toward unity for the witness of Christ and the sake of our mission in the world.

I do ask that you pray for me as I am praying for you and our church right now.

Best of all, God is with us.


John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
Greater New Jersey

Moral Monday Rally: October 27

The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow is holding the Moral Monday Rally to end the criminalization of our youth, remove barriers to re-entry, reduce the prison population and invest in the social safety net (schools, housing, jobs).

On October 27, noon to 2 p.m., The Moral Monday Rally will aim for lawmakers to reform our criminal justice laws and racially discriminatory incarceration end the criminalization of our youth, remove barriers to re-entry, reduce the prison population and invest in the social safety net (schools, housing, jobs). It will be October 27, noon to 2 p.m., on the steps of the New Jersey State House in Trenton. Parking is available in the New Jersey State House and Trenton Wyndham Hotel decks.

jim crow book

Inspired to organize by Michelle Alexander’s seminal book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the Campaign to End Jim Crow is an all-volunteer grass roots coalition of area leaders and concerned citizens who have come together to raise awareness of our broken criminal justice system, promote prison reform legislation and to garner support for the incarcerated and their families.

In 2010, Michelle Alexander, a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar who has taught at a number of universities, including Stanford Law School, published The New Jim Crow which details how, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice systemfunctions as a contemporary system of racial control. Through America’s “war on drugs,” black and brown men in America were targeted for incarceration, thereby recreating a racial caste system denying these people access to employment and voting rights hard fought and won through the civil rights movement, and succeeding in decimating black families. In noted historian Cornel West’s forward of The New Jim Crow, he writes of “the massive use of state power to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of precious poor, black, male (and, increasingly, female) young people in the name of a bogus “War on Drugs.”

Join CENJC’s rally to end the criminalization of our youth, remove barriers to re-entry, reduce the prison population and invest in the social safety net (schools, housing, jobs). Visit CENJC on Facebook.

Methodists, of all Christian denominations, share John Wesley’s heritage of pushing for prison reform.