Associates in Advocacy now has two sites on the internet. Our primary help site is at http://www.aiateam.org/. There AIA seeks to offer aid to troubled pastors, mainly those who face complaints and whose careers are on the line.

Help is also available to their advocates, their caregivers, Cabinets, and others trying to work in that context.

This site will be a blog. On it we will address issues and events that come up.

We have a point of view about ministry, personnel work, and authority. We intend to take the following very seriously:


Some of our denomination's personnel practices have real merit. Some are deeply flawed. To tell the difference, we go to these criteria to help us know the difference.

We also have a vision of what constitutes healthy leadership and authority. We believe it is in line with Scripture, up-to-date managerial practice, and law.

To our great sadness, some pastors who become part of the hierarchy of the church, particularly the Cabinet, have a vision based on their being in control as "kings of the hill," not accountable to anyone and not responsible to follow the Discipline or our faith and practice. They do not see that THE GOLDEN RULE applies to what they do.

If you are reading this, the chances are you are not that way. We hope what we say and do exemplify our own best vision and will help you fulfill yours. But we cannot just leave arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance to flourish. All of us have the responsibility to minimize those in our system.

We join you in fulfilling our individual vow of expecting to be perfect in love in this life and applying that vow to our corporate life in the United Methodist Church.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you have any questions or suggestions, direct them to Rev. Jerry Eckert. His e-mail address is aj_eckert@hotmail.com. His phone number is 941 743 0518. His address is 20487 Albury Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

Thank you.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

General Conference Opening

I was there a half hour before the opening worship of General Conference (GC) began. The place was quite full. I had to climb high into the bleachers to get a seat.

Across from me were three huge choirs, I presume three of the best from the largest churches.

There was an orchestra in formal wear, and there was an instrumental group which included drums of many kinds and electric stringed instruments.

I can’t count the number of golden voiced individual singers, men and women, between the bands or fronting the instrumental group.

The music was excellent. Most of the earlier music was choral in the more traditional style, including something from the Messiah, with the choirs taking turns. Between were arrangements of hymns I sang most of my career. And there were choral pieces built on southern gospel music. Conference members and others attending chatted, just like folks do during the prelude on a Sunday morning.

The bishop called us to worship (she reminded me of Hillary Clinton). That took a bit of doing. As she did, the three choral groups left and three new ones moved into their places.

The music went away from the various traditions with which I was familiar. What followed were songs sung by praise choirs and bands in “contemporary” services around the country, songs that were repetitive and included a lot of hand clapping.

Songs from other countries’ traditions were used, some meditative, some energetic. Where before I wore out my voice, now I didn’t know what they were singing at all. But the folks around me did.

At one point in the service, all the instruments stopped playing and the congregation sang a cappella. It was full of strength and energy (it was also an old familiar hymn, “I Come to the Garden Alone”).

The amazing thing was that there was an almost seamless flow from one musical form to the next.

During the music, groups of young people dressed in flowing gowns moved gracefully along every aisle on the ground floor and into the lower rows of the bleacher area.

As they moved, the bishops entered is procession, sometimes moving to the more dance-like rhythms (imagine octogenarians grooving in a subdued manner) and sometimes just moving along to the more march-like tempos.

It was a long way from where they came in and every bishop still alive and ambulatory was in that processional. And they processed to many different songs, it took that long.

Forty minutes into the service, the bishops were finally in place and the presiding bishop started in with congregational prayers and Scripture readings.

She preached well. The theme was “Hope.” She received an ovation when she finished.

The voices of the writers’ group to which I belong came into my head.

“She dropped the flow she set up so beautifully and went another direction.”

“Great story but she’s stretching its relevance to the theme.”

“She took the best parts of seven different sermons and strung them together.”

“She really needed an editor to keep her on track.”

“She did deliver it well.”

“And that story stood alone no matter what its context. Good stuff.”

My writers’ group is both critical and supportive.

The musicians took over as the focus of the service switched to Communion. And the dance groups, including three “ghetto” young men in back slacks and open colored white shirts, made their moves to the music.

Suddenly this marvelous mature male voice sang the words of the bishop’s part of the “Great Thanksgiving.” And all the people read or sang their responses. It worked. The male voice was of a second bishop who led us through the Communion service.

The altar table was a small round table set in the very middle of the seated delegates and Communion elements were sent from there to the bishops who had come back off the stage and scattered along the outside aisles and up into the bleachers to distribute the bread and cup.

I realized that some of them stood in one place for over a half hour without moving. That included the retirees! You have to be physically strong to be a bishop.

All of this excellent use of the huge space and sound and liturgy was impressive. But when it came time to go down those stairs to get Communion through the long lines both going down and then coming back up the same stairs, my legs couldn’t do it. I felt disconnected, like an observer of foreign customs during that time.

But one of the women who sat near me, one of the last to come back up from receiving the elements brought a tiny piece of the bread that had been dipped in the cup. She placed it in my hands and I ate of it.

The taste of her kindness still lingered through out the beginning of the plenary and still gives me goose bumps this morning.

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