Close Encounters of the Change Kind

Working at the welcome booth at the airport for General Conference, I was not expecting to encounter a blessing.

All the women bishops had arrived days earlier for a conference in Hood River, so when two bishops, Bishop Peggy Johnson from the Philadelphia area, and Retired Bishop Violet Fisher arrived at our booth at 8 am, we were surprised. They weren’t on our manifest of arriving passengers!

But there they were at the booth, laughing, chatting, having arrived at PDX in order to meet Bishop Peggy’s husband Mike when he arrived and then head into Portland together.

Leaning on the desk, Bishop Peggy having told me a bit about their experience in Hood River, and said how much she loves to preach, saying:

“I preach in a different church every Sunday. I have 800 churches in the conference.”

Can you imagine doing that?

Then she said to me, “You know, I have sermons ready, do you know anyplace I could preach while I am here?”

I did. “How about Westside?” I asked.

“Could I?” She inquired.

“Absolutely,” I said!

It was that simple, and “The Bishops were Coming!” Turned out both she and Bishop Violet came on Sunday! Then Sunday, May 15th, Bishop Peggy will be preaching for Karen at Canby UMC, and Bishop Vi at Lake Oswego.

She asked me about the church. I told our story, how we are church plant, how I had followed the founding pastor, and she said,

“Oh my, there is nothing quite that difficult!” I agreed with that!

And as suddenly as our conversation had begun, we were deeply sharing life. I told her about an especially tough experience that I had had that week, which she received and heard, and she told me stories of her life as well. We connected. And then we discovered we were graduates of the same seminary, just 8 years apart from one another. It was like a family reunion.

Someone after church on Sunday said, “I think you were twins separated at birth.”

Joy and love exude from Bishop Peggy. She connected with our congregation preaching about the Body of Christ — about not excluding others and not excluding ourselves. Having pastored a deaf congregation for 20 years, Bishop Peggy knows all about what it is like to be part of the excluded minority. She is passionate for those who cannot make their voice heard. Imagine a deaf person needing counseling to recover from hurts of the past but unable to receive it for there are so few counselors who speak sign language who can counsel them. And to use an interpreter breaks the connection of the counselor with the person.

She is a promoter of ministry that reaches out to those needing inclusion. At her deaf congregation they had what they joyfully called “Deaf Row.” This was a ministry to those, who like Helen Keller, were both deaf and blind. A deaf person adopted someone both deaf and blind and would sit beside them on this row and sign to them throughout the service so they would “see” through signing.

But equally is the need for us to not exclude ourselves from our place in God’s body – “those weakest are most vital,” Paul wrote. And we have a tendency to exclude ourselves for we don’t measure up, fit in, are failures, are ugly, tall, short, fat, skinny, stupid, smart, etc. There are all kinds of reasons we exclude ourselves from our place in Christ’s Body. Story after story illustrated the need to include ourselves.

God is the great mender of hearts and there were many hearts touched by His Spirit on Sunday, mine included.

I know that many were impacted. God is like that. He uses simple encounters, just brief moments, to send a ripple across the pond of life to change lives. He certainly changed mine. And God reminded me of this – that as we walk on the Way of this life our lives are on course to impact other people’s lives. Perhaps today there are brief moments that will bring change to you and others, you could not expect.

May we not exclude ourselves from what God wants to do through us, and not exclude others, either. Thanks Bishop Peggy!



About Camino Way 2016 Shimer

On August 22, 1981 I married this wonderful woman, Karen, who has consistently blessed and changed my life and days. We are still in love, all the more with the years. We have four daughters, two sons by marriage, and three delightful, wonderful grandchildren. So, that makes me a husband, father, and grandfather all in those sentences. But mostly just a guy who loves my family. Today Karen and I planted beautiful plants in numerous pots. She had come home with the plants and that experience reminded me how much I enjoy simple things and simple pleasures -- like digging in dirt to plant a flower, like sunlight through glass on a spring day, like clean windows -- just washed ours today -- like a melody that won't escape from my heart. I've been a local church pastor for 30 years as of this June, a number that staggers me for I feel about that age on the inside, but clearly that's not the case. Back in 1988 I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with an Mdiv-- a time of schooling that has been a foundation for years of ministry. But it is mostly in the building upon that foundation, that has most changed my life. I love people, love seeing Jesus work in people's lives. One of my favorite joys is to pray with someone through some horrible place of memory and see Jesus walk right into their memory world, and turn on the lights in a way that sets their soul free and brings healing. There's nothing like this privilege and I have been there to watch it happen more times than I can count. Between 4 and 7 the associate pastor of my family's congregation sexually abused me, first grooming me, then repeatedly violating my young self. This marked my life. It changed my bearings. It ripped at my faith. It wounded my image of what it meant to be a little boy, and later a man. It has been a point from which I have been in the process of healing for many years now. I'm a survivor, but more than that, I am one who lives beyond what was done. For in the middle of all that stuff, Jesus was calling me, speaking to me, bidding me to follow him to bring change to people's lives within the realm of the very office that was used to harm me. Only Jesus can make light from darkness, hope from despair, and healing from brokenness. I love Jesus. He really is alive, no matter what others may believe. And his life, his presence, his words into my world, his healing power have continued to be the foundation point of what it means to experience life to the fullest. I love writing. I don't really know why on that score for really writing has never been a central tool in my world, nor has it come easily. But I love seeing how words released heal. And I love the way words can connect me to other people's worlds. So, that's why I started blogging. It began because I was planning to blog on a weekly basis when I went to walk the Camino de Santiago last fall. And in order to be able to blog while walking, I knew I had to begin to practice blogging before I was in another country. A friend told me that. Friends are good to help us find ways to live more authentically into our daily lives! So, I started. But what I have discovered is there is something powerful about sharing the story of life with others. So, I have continued. And I love the connections being built through those words. In 2011 I experienced my first seminar in Simply the Story, a bible story telling method that involves those listening in discussion and I decided then -- "this is what I plan to do when I retire." But really-- "why wait until then?" -- so I use this method while I continue pastoring. It sets people free and allows the Word to take root in ways that preaching never has. So again and again I am practicing asking questions and that is good practice for me, because I am frequently better at "telling" than "asking." This has been such a freeing gift. I love training others in this skill. So, a storyteller would certainly be true of me too. Years ago I discovered my mission in life is "the joyful transformation of people's lives through the person of Jesus Christ." And that continues to be where I find my home base, in joy. Where there is joy, I find, there is Jesus, and there is the possibility of transformation. Of course Jesus is in places where there is no joy as well, and once He is there, the place kind of changes because of Him. I love that.
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1 Response to Close Encounters of the Change Kind

  1. First of all, GREAT title. 🙂 Second of all, “it was like a family reunion.” Thanks for so perfectly capturing that experience of kinship that can happen when two hearts are as open and as welcoming as yours and Peggy’s were. Just lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

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