Unbind Me

March 13, 2018

Tags: United Methodist, Discipline, homosexuality, Liberia

To my brothers and sisters in Christ in Liberia,

This is my second letter to you on my blog. Two months ago I wrote apologizing for President Trump when he called nations in Africa “shithole countries.” He does not speak for me. I feel privileged to be a partner with you in ministry in the United Methodist Church. By working together, we’ve dug wells, built churches, provided health care to mothers and babies, and supported schoolchildren. God is good.

This letter is more difficult. I’m writing to ask you to consider voting to change the United Methodist Book of Discipline as it relates to homosexuals. We serve the same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But our cultural contexts are very different, and we interpret the Bible differently.

I believe that sexual orientation is not a sin or a choice, but something determined from birth. I could no more ask someone to change their sexual orientation than the color of their skin. Nor can I, who have enjoyed the love of my husband for 42 years, ask gay Christians to endure a lifetime of loneliness by insisting they remain unmarried or celibate.

There are gay Christians in my “village” who need to be fully welcomed into the United Methodist Church. They’ve been baptized. They pray, they read the Bible, they sing and raise their hands in praise. They tithe. They serve their churches with the spiritual gifts God has given them. I want to able to perform their weddings. I want to serve alongside them as pastors when God calls them into ministry. I believe the United Methodist Church in the United States needs their leadership.

Please. Unbind me from the prohibitions of ¶161.F, ¶ 304.3, and ¶341.6.

I take the Bible very seriously. When I come upon a difficult passage or issue, I try to read it through Jesus’ central teaching that we shall love God and our neighbor as ourselves. John Wesley used the “law of love” when he addressed the issue of slavery in the 18th century. Though the Bible permits holding of slaves, Wesley said, slavery is inconsistent with the teaching and practice of Jesus. So he told Methodists to free their slaves and work for abolition.

Regardless of what happens in St. Louis next February when the General Conference meets, I will continue to pray for you and continue to send money to Liberia, as I have in the past, for wells, churches, health clinics, orphanages, and schools. Please continue to pray for me and for my faithfulness in caring for God’s people here.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Sondra Willobee

I'm sorry

January 15, 2018

Tags: apology, shithole countries, Trump, UMC

To my brothers in sisters in Christ in Haiti and Liberia,

I’m sorry. I apologize. I’m embarrassed for my country. I want you to know that President Donald Trump does not speak for me in calling Haiti and nations in Africa “shithole countries.” I am appalled at his racist rhetoric.

I have not had the privilege of travelling to Haiti or Liberia. But all of the church leaders, pastors, and mission workers I’ve met as part of our covenant relationship in the Michigan Area of the United Methodist Church have been nothing but gracious, courageous, dedicated, and spirit-filled.

I treasure our partnership in ministry, and prize the knowledge that you pray for us and we pray for you. It’s been a highlight of my ministry to help raise money to dig wells, provide health care, feed schoolchildren and spread the good news of Jesus’ love for all people.

I ask your forgiveness and pray a fulfillment of Ephesians 4:29 by all national leaders: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

Please continue to pray for us that we might be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Sondra Willobee

Gratitude

September 28, 2017

Tags: gratitude, cup of salvation, CROP walk

I’m full of gratitude last night and this morning. I felt so good yesterday evening after a day of work inside and outside – the whole afternoon in the yard, clearing brushy plants from the perimeter so we can blow leaves more easily into the woods. The air was cool and golden light shone through the leaves.

After dinner I sat on the patio, drinking tea and eating gingersnaps, watching clouds move overhead and dusk creep into the recesses of the yard. I went to sleep on a bed made for a queen with dark polished wood, curved posts, and intricate knobs. Pleasantly tired, I lay awake looking forward to the next day of rest and writing.

This morning Ed made us mushroom omelets with swiss cheese – and orange juice and fresh strawberries and good hot tea. I again felt like a queen. Though we call ourselves middle-class, we live like royalty used to – in a spacious home that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter, eating elaborate meals with fresh fruit from far places, having many choices of clothing in beautiful colors and fabrics. Many people of lesser means serve us – waitresses, store clerks, parking lot attendants, the young woman in a light blue uniform at the hospital wiping the fingerprints from the shiny glass stairwell.

“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” the psalmist asks in Psalm 116. “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

I want to lift up the cup of my life in gratitude, and pour it out so others may be blessed. One of the things I will do today is write a check so a student in Liberia has tuition for the year (an amount not much more than Ed and I spend for a nice dinner out.) I will resolve not to covet, enjoying what I have, remembering Jesus’ warning that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I will put what I have at his disposal – time, energy, goods – and work for a more just distribution of the world’s resources.

I’ll lace up my hiking boots and walk in the CROP walk for hunger this Sunday. I could call or write my representatives in Congress to say that everyone needs access to basic things – clean water and education and health care, to name a few. Americans like me, wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors, need to share – not hoard – what we have. Guide me, O God, as I live in gratitude today.

Learning from Women

September 14, 2017

Tags: learning from women, new retiree, Holy Spirit, writing, World War II

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. –2 Timothy 1:5-7 NRSV

I’m sitting at the feet of women who are long dead. “Sitting at the feet of” is the posture of a disciple with a rabbi. “What can you teach me, Mother?” I ask these women. I need wisdom as I enter a new phase of my life in an uneasy season in an uneasy world.

The first woman is my grandmother, a farm wife in Huron County, Michigan, at whose kitchen table I sat as a child, eating apples from the cellar and listening to stories of her life. Only later would I realize what terrible things went untold, held behind her pursed lips and pale blue eyes. I have some of her diaries, the earliest from the years of World War II. Her entries are maddeningly brief. She reports the barest of facts – rarely how she feels about them. If I read between the lines, try to understand her heart, perhaps I can understand, and learn how to live my days.

“What can you teach me, grandmother?” I ask. I live in a time of polarized leadership, violent prejudices, calamitous disasters, even the threat of nuclear attack. Yet in my small sphere, I’m incredibly fortunate: newly-retired after a difficult, but rewarding career as a pastor, I’m able to spend luxurious amounts of time outdoors and at my writing desk. I’m free to wander fields, name wildflowers, and slip my canoe in the water on a Monday afternoon. I’m free to be with family and friends, eating and drinking and talking and playing, preparing to welcome our first grandchild. I’m free to write where the words take me, free to make mistakes, following the words until the trail ends or grows over, and I must turn around and find a new way.

The other women are in a devotional book, Meditations for Women, published in 1947, given me by my mother-in-law in 1979. It’s been on my shelf all these years, unread. When she gave it to me, I thought it quaint and dated. Now it interests me because it coincides with the time of my grandmother’s diary. When I open it, the binding cracks and a piece of the cover breaks off. The prose is more flowery than ours, but the insights ring true. And perhaps these women who raised children and rebuilt communities and reflected on the life of the spirit in those strange post-war years can help me as I care for my daughter and grandchild and try to resume the odd life of writing.

I claim the promises of these who have gone before me, who laid hands on me literally or figuratively, and ask for their blessing. Through the re-kindling of the Holy Spirit, may I live a disciplined life, speaking the truth in love, with freedom, boldness, and power.

Selected Works

Sermon Preparation
"I cannot imagine a more practical, attentive, useful, reliable, provocative, and thoughtful guide to the delightful play of detail and form in sermons than this volume." -- Thomas Long
Adult Study
This is a Lectionary-based Adult Bible study for Year B. Contributors: Terri S. Cofiell, David A. deSilva, Mary Jo Osterman, Vincent Harris, Denise Nutt-Beers, Sondra B. Willobee
This is a Lectionary-based Adult Bible study for Year B. Contributors include: David A. deSilva, John O. Gooch, M. Bass Mitchell, Denise Nutt-Beers, Mary Jo Osterman, Sondra B. Willobee
Devotionals
"Unique metaphors of faith permeate this collection of worship resources and personal reflections. Clergywomen share insights into their spiritual journey, declaring both the exquisite joy and palpable pain of ministry."--Nan Self
These prayers and meditations can be used for personal reflection or for devotions at a women's meeting.

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