14 August 2015

"We are Indelibly and Unspeakably One"

Today the church remembers Jonathan Myrick Daniels, seminarian and martyr, who on this day fifty years ago was arrested and imprisoned for protesting against the evil of segregation perpetrated in his name as a citizen of an empire. Less than a week later Daniels would be martyred by a gunshot intended for his friend, Ruby Sales, shortly following a late night release from jail.

As a senior in my final semester of seminary, Jonathan Myrick Daniels story has been influential in my formation over my last few years, you'll note my previous blog entry was part of a sermon I preached last year at The Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg. Not just because he was an Episcopal seminarian like me, and not just because he fought against the oppression of people of color instituted and maintained by people of his own race. While those are important distinctions, what is formational for me is that Daniels followed the scripture literally when he gave what Christ said was the greatest gift, he laid down his life for a friend. Daniels stood in the middle way, Via Media, and on the day he was murdered fifty years ago he literally acted as an intercessor, he acted incarnationally, he acted as a priest… though having never been ordained.

During these last few years as I have made the move out of an ordination process in The United Methodist Church and began again as an Episcopalian, my journey continues to seem protracted, and has at times felt forlorn. During some of those times it has been Daniels’ story that continues to remind me that while I am called to the ministry of word and sacrament, and will one day be ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion, I can, and even we all can, live out the priesthood of all believers today.

Daniels’ life, and death, teaches us that the earthly incarnation of Christ did not end at the Ascension, which we celebrated a few weeks ago. No, Daniels teaches us that if we truly believe the church is Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, then we are the continual incarnation of Christ in the world. Christ is not just something we take into us and commune with at the Eucharist meal, it is what we become as the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ, works in us individually and communally to see the Kingdom come, on Earth, as in Heaven.

We sit today fifty years after the imprisonment and martyrdom of Jonathan Myrick Daniels and yet the same sins of oppression, racism, hate, greed, egotism, and empire of that day continue to stain and tear at our nation. These stains tarnish the American story of life and liberty. These stains scream out to us just as Abel’s blood did to the Lord. These stains remind us that we, as the Body of Christ, still have a lot more to do to see the Kingdom come, on Earth, as in Heaven. Much more than just recite those words as a musty prayer each week in worship.

This week an United Methodist clergywoman was accused by an agent of the empire of being “of Satan” as she called for justice of the oppressed, the same insult white supremacists hurled at civil rights workers fifty years ago. Last week a married interracial couple, comprised of an Episcopal clergyman and clergywoman, were harassed by agents of the empire on the side of a southern road without just cause, the same as happens to countless people of color and their friends for the last fifty years. The weeks prior to that have seen clergywomen in the south receive death threats simply for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as social holiness preachers and civil rights workers received fifty years ago. In the weeks before that nearly a dozen historically African American churches of various denominational affiliations were burned under mysterious circumstances, just as happened fifty years ago.  Weeks prior to that a white supremacist walked into a historically black church in Charleston, SC and murdered nine Christian clergy and lay people while at prayer and Bible study, again the same as happened to racial minorities fifty years ago. These events serve only as tiny examples of the continual systematic oppression, hate, and yes, sin, which continues to seep from the foundations of our economic and governmental systems, systems that overwhelmingly and disproportionally oppress racial minorities. All of this is deepening the stain, and all the while many of us who stand in the middle, those of us who walk the Via Media, stand silent or look the other way, and hope if we do not rock the boat we can be free, we can be safe, we can be prosperous. But we cannot be free or safe or prosperous while others are still forced to wallow in the gutters of oppression, fear, and poverty. What sort of life, liberty, and happiness can we really have if it is built on the subjugation of others? We must realize that, "we are indelibly and unspeakably one."

As the shots are continually fired against the oppressed in this present age, we in the majority can primarily consider our own financial stability, our own comfort, our own life if we are not attentive to the Spirit’s calling. Rather than stand in the way of the bullets, we often choose the way of the Levite on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and walk another direction.  We often choose to blaspheme our calling as the Body of Christ, for the comfort and material wants of our own body. We often choose to live as mere physical finite beings rather than embrace our call to be incarnations through the power of the infinite Holy Spirit residing in us.

As this weekend begins, and as the Washington National Cathedral hosts a commemoration of Daniels’ life, marking the fifty years since his death, I wonder how might we all honor Daniels. In the autumn the cathedral will officially unveil a stone carving of his likeness on the “Human Rights Porch”, joining carvings of Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa. As this testimony is carved in stone I wonder if we listen closely will we hear the blood of the martyrs, like Jonathan Myrick Daniels and the nine slain in Charleston, calling us to embrace our priesthood as believers and be living testimonies. A calling to take the words of the Magnificat found in scripture, which first inspired Daniels to go to Alabama, seriously; “[The Lord] hath torn down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.” Might we take this weekend to consider how we can truly live into our calling as intercessors, as incarnations, as priests, and finish the work that Daniels, and countless others, began. That the Kingdom may come, on Earth, as in Heaven, Amen.

"The doctrine of the creeds, the enacted faith of the sacraments, were essential preconditions of the experience itself. The faith with which I went to Selma has not changed: it has grown... I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord's death and resurrection with them, the black and white [people], with all life in him whose Name is above all the names that the races and nationals shout... We are indelibly and unspeakable one." ~ Jonathan Myrick Daniels

19 August 2014

Give your life, Live your life

Read John 5:30-47 (Daily Office’s Gospel Text)

I’m an Episcopalian, and last Thursday was, on our calendar, the feast day of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, most people didn’t notice, or chose not to notice. I posted his photo and a link to his bio on my FaceBook and Twitter accounts, that post received fewer “likes” than a picture of my dog sleeping would receive a few days later.

Jonathan Myrick Daniels was a seminarian, like us.

He had arrived at the Episcopal Theological School at Cambridge Massachusetts, opposed to segregation, but following a traditionalist safe ideology; originally opposed to the idea of going to the south and joining in the civil rights struggle. However, after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, Daniels’ mind was changed and he put his education on hold to join the work in the south, specifically in Selma, Alabama. On August 14th 1965 he took part in a peaceful protest and was arrested. On August 20th he was released from jail along with an Anglo-American Roman Catholic priest and two African-American civil rights workers. The four young workers walked to a nearby grocery store, but as they arrived they were met in front by the owner yelling racist epitaphs and brandishing a gun. As the owner took aim at the African-Americans, Daniels pushed one of his friends out of the way and was struck by the weapon’s discharge. Daniels gave his life that day for the calling of God.

Daniels was the 26th civil rights worker to give their life in the south, and Dr. King believed that Daniels’ death gave a new awareness of the struggle to the north. Daniels would never finish his seminary education, he would never be ordained, he would never serve a parish, celebrate the Eucharist, perform a baptism, teach a Bible study, or do any of the other things people kind of think we go to seminary to do. Daniels was a leader and a martyr. The church rightly celebrates and remembers his faith, sacrifice, witness, courage, and testimony, as do I. The church needs leaders like Jonathan Myrick Daniels, and our world needs prophets like Jonathan Myrick Daniels, those who will give their life for the Good News.

After listening to yesterday or today’s evening news, as seminarians you may be feeling the call to go to the Selmas of our day; Gaza, Ferguson, or what have you. And I believe God is calling people to this work in those places! God needs people who will lead the struggle against wickedness in those places. God needs people who will stand with the oppressed, and, as I said, maybe, like Jonathan Myrick Daniels, maybe, God is calling you to give your life through the work, in that place, at this time.

But maybe God isn’t.

Yes, the church needs to take a stand, the church needs to be prophetic, but there are already more clerical collars in Ferguson than there are churches… and maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe we should have already been there; before someone was shot, before the looting, before the riots, before the current protests. Maybe we; the prophets, teachers, prayers and preachers shouldn’t wait ‘til things are out of control to show up. Maybe we shouldn’t wait until the streets are running warm with the blood of the oppressed, to march in the streets. Maybe we shouldn’t only question our government spending priorities or its militant overreach, when our silence has cost someone their life or liberty. Maybe we shouldn’t only show up loudly proclaiming the Good News of a different Kingdom, after the cameras and microphones are there to see and hear us.

The Church, with a capital C, should have been there to begin with.

Too many of our churches have fled the very areas that needed us, before they looked like war zones, because our tax-free property values were plummeting and it didn’t feel ‘safe’ anymore. We didn’t want to ask why these things were happening, and work there to change them, we just left. We acted like if we ignored the problem and moved away, the problem wouldn’t exist. We chose to ignore rather than address, we chose to pacify rather than prophecy.

So, rather than going somewhere else, possibly, God is calling you to preach, prophecy, work, serve, and give your life right where you are, right now, while you study. Because you see oppression doesn’t only exist in Gaza, and racism doesn’t only exist in Ferguson. Oppression, racism, and their ilk live and thrive everywhere that we, the church, ignore the systematic issues and policies that feed their malevolence. I promise you that there is enough of this sort of injustice and sin in our state to keep us busy, and there is just as much evil in every town that has a church where you are already serving or worshiping. In Lancaster, in Gettysburg, in Philadelphia, in Baltimore, in Harrisburg, in Washington DC and everywhere in-between… we really don’t need to seek it out further.  It is here. Hate, abuse, and prejudice exists unchecked everywhere we have a pulpit already stationed or a bible study meeting which is not speaking and teaching the Love of God and offering the call to action now, in response to a different way of thinking. A call to a New and Peaceable Kingdom, or as Dr. King called it, a Beloved Community.

In everyone of our towns where they spend more money on armored vehicles and semi automatic guns for the local police than they do on education and food programs. In every one of our diocese and synods where we spend more time on foreign mission trips and administrate conferences than we do on school supplies and job training centers.  In every one of our churches that spends all their time preaching about personal holiness, but saying nothing about social holiness. In everyone of our communities where there is a larger need for prisons and homeless shelters than for parks and gardens… there needs to be a prophet, there needs to be a church, and there needs to be a seminarian who will say I’ll give my life here. I’ll do the work here.

So maybe, like Jonathan Myrick Daniels, God is calling you to Selma. Maybe God is calling you to take a rubber bullet in Ferguson, or breath tear gas in Gaza. Maybe God is calling you to be a martyr in front of the television cameras. But, more likely, God is calling you to do this work right where you are, because there is work to do here also. Maybe God isn’t asking for another tv front man, or dead martyr. Maybe God is asking us to give our whole life to this work. Even in this place, while you are finishing your seminary education, maybe God is asking you to keep this town from becoming a Ferguson; by addressing and confronting issues of poverty, inequality, abuse, and hate, here and now… not there and then.

Doing the work before it explodes into an international story probably won’t get you a feast day on the church calendar or a pundit spot on cable news. However doing the work at the local church, in the local community, on your local street might see a person who would otherwise be trapped in oppression, live a life to the fullest.

Wherever God is calling you, Go! If it is a call to the front lines of the struggle in a far away place, in the middle of a food bank in town, at a community job skills training facility, in the back row of a school council hearing, behind the curtain of a voting booth, or from the pulpit of your church; whatever, wherever, go give everything you’ve got, go give your whole lived life.

In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call Christ; Go, give, and live your life.

Let us pray;

“O God of justice and compassion, who put down the proud and the mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one.” Amen.

22 June 2014

A Charge to Keep I Have...

During Advent I received a letter from the Wilmington District Committee on Ministry of the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. In that letter I was informed that I would not be allowed to continue in the ordination process if I held to my current beliefs on a solitary issue. Specifically my profession that I would not turn away same gender couples meeting all the same requirements of opposite gender couples, seeking a legal marriage in Delaware and Maryland. I had requested the DCoM deliberate now on whether I should continue my journey before I spent additional years in the United Methodist ordination process only to be turned away from ordination in the end because of this single issue.

Annual Conference and District leadership, both clergy and laity, encouraged me in private to just leave this issue alone. They told me just to keep quiet while I completed the ordination process, as they had done and then work against oppression. They pleaded with me to not cry out for justice in public, but work behind the scenes with them. They extolled me to suppress my views until I was finished this journey and not openly proclaim Christ’s welcome to all. They explained to me in private what they feared to say in public; that they agree that The United Methodist Church is wrong on this issue and that they were being secretly subversive. I was invited by members of the committee to recant of my views, at least publicly, in order to continue my ordination journey. But I could not join them any longer in the dark corners of an annual conference closet.

My issue is that I actually believe in the church’s mission to evangelize and make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world, but I also believe that our silence and inaction on issues of equality continues to drive people away from God and the church. I believe the Articles of Faith, but also believe that a public affirmation of the church’s discriminatory words enshrined in the Book of Discipline, in order to keep jobs and protect pay checks continues to contribute to the oppression, abuse, and suicide of hurting LGBT people. I believe this is literally a matter of life and death, and I therefore, must choose life. Public silence and private affirmation while working in the shadows does real harm to the least among us; those hurting, scared, and scarred. Those who need most to hear about God’s love, healing, and light. I was reminded, when being asked to not speak publicly, of the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said; “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Let me affirm, I will always be a Methodist. I love John Wesley's teachings and Charles Wesley’s hymns. While not perfect, they represent to me a firm foundation for Christian faith formation. I believe in scripture, I believe in tradition, I believe in reason, and I believe in experience. I believe in the prevenient Grace of God that justified me and is helping me move on toward perfection through sanctification. I believe in connectionalism, I believe in personal and social holiness, I believe in the ministry of the small rural church, and I believe in the work of large urban churches. It is because of these beliefs that I also believe in marriage equality and full inclusion of LGBT believers in all aspects of the life of the church.

In 2012 I intentionally moved back to the east coast and began working on my Masters of Divinity degree in order to take part in the ordination process in the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference. After the 2012 General Conference in Tampa I transferred my membership from West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, where I had attended and served while working for almost a decade at the United Methodist Publishing House, to the small rural congregation in Maryland that I called home.

The Peninsula–Delaware Annual Conference was my home; it is there that I was baptized and confirmed in the rural three point charge named West Cecil Parish, It is there where God first spoke to my heart and it was strangely warmed, it is there where at Camp Pecometh I spent weeks of my youthful summers growing in my love of the God who created this wonderful world, it is there that I experienced African-American churches working alongside Anglo-American churches teaching me to seek deeper justice and work harder for diversity, it is there I became a disciple of Jesus Christ moving on toward perfection, it is there that I first experienced the Call of God on my life to vocational ministry, it is there that I preached my first sermon in morning worship when I was a teenager at Zion United Methodist Church, and it is there I hoped to continue to serve, lead, and grow with others in these types of experiences and more.

However, a few months ago I was told that the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church did not want someone like me. That solely because of my public and direct refusal to follow one set of discriminatory laws in our Book of Discipline if ordained, my candidacy process would not be supported any longer. I was told that the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church was no longer my home if I was to pursue my God given calling. I had been publicly honest, and for this honesty I was cast out of my home.

After much prayer along with council with friends, family, and spiritual advisors during Advent, Christmas, and Lent; I met with the Rector of the local Episcopal Church during Easter to begin the official move to a tradition seeped in historic liturgy, common prayer, and the central influence in the lives of many Wesleyan/Methodist forerunners. Today I was welcomed into the Episcopal Church by The Right Reverend Robert R. Gepert with a service of Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation at the historic and vibrant Saint James Episcopal Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Here I have begun to find a supportive home again. A home in which to live out my charge, my call to vocational ministry; to publicly proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ, both crucified and risen, to all people! 

"A charge to keep I have, A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save, And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age, My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage To do my Master’s will!"

~ Charles Wesley, 1762

Asa David Coulson
The Feast of Saint Alban, martyr

June 22, 2014

23 October 2013

National Coming Out Day 2013 - Open Letter to Bishop, second response

Dear Bishop Johnson,

Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ, who proclaims, “to set the oppressed free!” (Luke 4:18)
Again, thank you for your quick reply.

In your response you say, “I deeply appreciate the pain and rejection of LGBT people in the UMC as the Discipline is written right now. I also see a whole generation of people who are more conservative and have sincere beliefs that are grieved in the opposite direction… I am committed to dialog and making a way in the wilderness but it will come slowly.” You hold these two groups up as though they present two equally valid claims. I must insist that those who are oppressed by discrimination are not equal to those who are holding, teaching, and affirming oppression. If that is the case, I cannot believe that you really “appreciate the pain and rejection of LGBT people.”

Are you aware that LGBT youth are 4-6 times more likely to commit suicide because of factors like rejection by family, friends, and our church? These same youth are 7 times more likely to be physically attacked and injured with a weapon. Half of all LGBT youth report to have been verbally abused for being who God created them to be, and a third miss at least one day a month from school due to extreme bullying, contributing to a High School drop out rate among LGBT youth nearly three times the national average. These statistics are just the start of the deep and continued oppression of LGBT people that the United Methodist Church affirms by our slow movement, silence, and overwhelming inaction. Worse yet the UMC enshrines in her laws, passages that proclaim these youth are “incompatible with Christian teaching” and that God has no intention of calling these youth to a place in our denomination, or the Kingdome of God, since; “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” (Paragraph 304.3) This is a much larger issue than a simple disagreement among kindred folks on marriage equality; these practices, beliefs, and teachings do actual harm to countless men, women and youth.

Maybe the “generation” we need to be concerned about is not the one whose “conservative beliefs” have contributed to and supported the oppression and rejection of LGBT people, the same conservative views that upheld racial segregation and to this day close pulpits to women, like you, called by God to proclaim Good News. Instead, maybe we need to look to future generations of the church; generations that the UMC is hemorrhaging daily due to legally codified discrimination and hypocrisy.

In his book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks abut Christianity… and Why it Matters, David Kinnaman reports that, when asked what it means to be Christian, 91 percent of non-church going youth today, almost an entire generation of people that we hope might still hear and respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ, think the most common attribute among believers is that they are anti-gay. Worse yet, more than 1 in 4 say that Christianity looks nothing like our Lord, Jesus. You see, they (the “unchurched”) want to get Jesus, they just don’t get the hate we teach in His name. I regrettably cannot help but agree and question how did a movement founded on the example of Jesus, who welcomed and partied with the poor, hurt, and oppressed, become a bureaucracy laden organization that repels these very same people in the name of self preservation, especially self preservation of a generation that puts legality above love?

Bishop Johnson, with respect, our bishops, elders, deacons, licensed pastors and congregations who continue to proclaim they love, welcome, and accept LGBT people, but then uphold the unjust, discriminatory, and oppressive laws in our Book of Discipline are being hypocritical… a term more than 80 percent of youth surveyed in Kinnaman’s book use to describe the believers who make up the church. This double speak by our leaders and congregations does real harm to individuals, and to the Gospel message we attempt to proclaim, a direct violation of one of Wesley’s “three simple rules” or “General Rules” as we call them in the Book of Disciple; “Do No Harm” (Paragraph 102).

Rather than patronizing and pacifying a generation bound in the sin of discrimination and pure hate, leaders in our denomination should use your prophetic voice to proclaim, and act out, that these “conservative beliefs” are in error, that these beliefs, while long held, are simply wrong, that these beliefs, strung together with bad exegesis of biblical texts, stand against the Good News proclaimed by Christ and the Apostles. Leaders must say, not only with words but also with actions, I will not uphold discrimination, even if it costs me my job. It is quite literally a matter of life and death… If you do not believe the urgency of this please take time to visit the Trevor Project’s website and take a moment to click on and watch the YouTube link at the bottom of this letter.

When I served at the United Methodist Publishing House I received a call from one of my store managers saying that an Anglo-American church had said they believed that their choir would be more comfortable if African-American members of the staff did not come to the church to measure for choir robes. The manger asked what to do and I told them to let the church know we do not honor such discriminatory requests and if they had an issue with that policy they should look for another company to provide their choir robes. The church did not persist in their blatant prejudice, at least on this issue, and shortly thereafter I joined one of my African-American staff members as we went together and measured their robes. By allowing people to continue in their incorrect beliefs, without bringing them in direct confrontation with truth, is as bad as teaching those beliefs from our own mouths.  Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reminds us, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” If we fail to speak and act, at the risk of our very lives, careers, and fortunes, the blood of a generation that is falling away from the Good News of Jesus Christ, due to our hypocrisy and our lack of prophetic love, is on our hands.

So, since in your second response you again did not respond to my questions, I will ask yet again; will you appoint ordained elders, deacons, or licensed pastors who openly perform same-gender marriage in Maryland and Delaware, where marriage equality is legal? I also ask, will you continue to allow ordained or licensed clergy brought before you, for performing such ceremonies, to face ecclesial trials for living out your own admonition of “speaking up for [our] LGBT brothers and sisters” by laboring in “protecting the rights of all people” by performing marriage legally and equally in the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference? Will you as Bishop continue to stand behind, and for, unjust laws that promote hate and discrimination in our Book of Discipline or will you live out other duties assigned to you in Paragraph 403.1a,b,c,d as an “appointed officer of the church”?

I, and an entire generation being displaced by our church’s discrimination, await your clear and direct reply to these questions.

Soli Deo Gloria
Asa David Coulson

October 23, 2013 – The Feast of Saint James the Just, martyr


18 October 2013

National Coming Out Day 2013 - Open Letter to Bishop Response

Dear Bishop Johnson,

Thank you for your quick reply and continued prayers. I am grateful for those prayers and your leadership in our denomination.

I must disagree with your statement that, “Sometimes our social justice and our holiness emphasis are in conflict…” It is my understanding that John Wesley would have understood no such dualistic conflict in the application of holiness in our lives. Wesley clearly taught that oppression, in any form, stood in opposition to holiness, both social and personal. Wesley’s words, “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness” ring loud in this charge to keep we have.

From your reply I understand your role, that you do not make decisions on who is approved by the ordination process; however, you do have final authority on whether someone will be appointed once they are ordained. You also have the power to bring clergy to trial if accusations are brought before you.

Therefore, before I continue in the ordination process in the faith tradition I love and has shaped me, I have a few direct questions. Will you appoint ordained elders, deacons, or licensed pastors who openly perform same-gender marriage in Maryland and Delaware, where marriage equality is legal? I also ask, will you continue to allow ordained or licensed clergy brought before you, for performing such ceremonies, to face ecclesial trials for living out your own admonition of “speaking up for [our] LGBT brothers and sisters” by laboring in “protecting the rights of all people” by performing marriage legally and equally in the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference? Will you as Bishop continue to stand behind, and for, unjust laws that promote hate and discrimination in our Book of Discipline or will you live out other duties assigned to you in Paragraph 403.1a,b,c,d as an “appointed officer of the church”?

I will send a new letter directly to the Wilmington District Committee on Ministry (DCoM) on whether they will allow me to continue in the ordination candidate process, understanding fully my position on marriage equality and my clear intentions to ignore and stand in “Biblical Obedience” against legalized discrimination in the Book of Discipline (Paragraph 304.3, Paragraph 341.6).

Thank you again for your continue prayers for my journey, mine are with you and our denomination as we continue our journey in holiness toward justice.

Pax et Bonum
Asa David Coulson

October 18, 2013 ~ The Feast of Saint Luke, the Evangelist

11 October 2013

National Coming Out Day 2013 - Open Letter to Bishop

Dear Bishop Peggy Johnson,

Today has been designated as “National Coming Out Day” and therefore I wanted to take this day to stand with our homosexual sisters and brothers who are in committed monogamous relationships throughout the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference and who are being discriminated against by The United Methodist Church.

As you are aware, both the State of Maryland and the State of Delaware now fully recognize same sex marriage, and the federal government has taken steps to insure those couples who are wedded in these states are given full and equal standing under the law. Yet, The United Methodist Church and her clergy are forbidden from celebrating, facilitating, hosting, or officiating holy marriage ceremonies even in states where all couples can be legally wed.

Recently retired Bishop Talbert, a champion of civil rights, charged all members of The United Methodist church, both laity and clergy, to begin acts of “Biblical Obedience” by refusing to be bound to man made rules in our Book of Discipline that clearly stand against the commandments of our Lord Jesus. Bishop Talbert said, “It is time to be welcoming to all people. Find ways in your congregation to say Sunday after Sunday after Sunday that ALL are welcome; a vocal expression that all are welcome in this place. It is time to be in conversation with individual pastors about your belief in Biblical Obedience. Tell them that you believe the position of the church is wrong, and you can no longer, with integrity, continue to support the discrimination against LGBTQ persons. There are consequences to taking such a stand, but there comes a time when you have to decide to whom are you accountable. Are you accountable only to The UMC or are you also accountable to God? One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” This commission comes prior to your own declaration that, “I am speaking up for my LGBT brothers and sisters. As a person of faith, I believe we need to protect the rights of all people” Your words personally invite those of us who are members of the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference, and all people of faith, to seek ways in which we might join you and Bishop Talbert in standing for what is just in regards to discrimination of lesbians and gays in our church.

As you are aware I am in my second year at the Lancaster Theological Seminary, and have begun the candidacy process for ordination as an elder within our denomination. This comes after years of confirmation of my calling by my local church, my pastors, my family, my friends, my coworkers, my seminary peers and even words of affirmation given by you and my District Superintendent personally. Inquiring of these same people who know me personally will validate my thoroughly deep and lived out Wesleyan beliefs and standards of both personal and social holiness.

However, on this day I want to make a clear declaration. If I am ordained, or appointed as a local pastor while in provisional status, in the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church I will not turn away any homosexual couple, meeting all the same qualifications as a heterosexual couple, who present themselves to me and ask for me to perform their marriage ceremony. I would also allow them to hold such a wedding in one of our churches, as weddings are worship services that should be held in the house of God. I will welcome these couples with an open heart, mind, and doors as our church has proclaimed to do for over a decade.

Therefore, in light of this declaration, I am asking whether you personally, along with my District Superintendent and District Committee on Ministry, will continue to support my candidacy process in this annual conference. Will you continue, “speaking up for my LGBT brothers and sisters” and “protect the rights of all people” or should I seek ordination in another annual conference, or even denomination, that no longer will stand for the open discrimination being practiced by the church?

I look forward to your response.

Soli Deo Gloria
Asa David Coulson

October 11, 2013 ~ the Feast of Saint Phillip, the Evangelist and Deacon

27 May 2012

Dreams and Visions

Good and Gracious God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer.


Last Sunday we were reminded of Jesus’ parting words at the Ascension as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Those words in Acts chapter one reminded us to be witnesses in our in our towns, in our nation and in the world. We were rightly reminded to live out our membership vows, vows that I will renew here next week, to support the work of the church with my prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service and my witness.

But before the Apostles and Disciples could be witnesses they were told to wait. In Luke’s gospel account of the Ascension the Disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem until they were “endued” or filled with power from on high. So today we mark that moment in the church, when the Holy Spirit of God came and gave the church her power. From the moment we leave the disciples last week, until we pick up the story again this week, the Disciples have been waiting… and waiting… and waiting.

I personally am not fond of waiting. In restaurants and stores often the only thing that allows me to keep my patience is the thought that, surly there must be a hidden TV camera around to see how I will react to the prolonged line at check out, or the delayed delivery of my food. I must be on one of those ‘candy camera’ style shows, I think… but never has that been the case, and in the end I am glad that I was patient. However, I will not begin to address my attitude when waiting in traffic, I know there isn’t a ‘candy camera’ around on I-95.

So imagine yourself in the Disciples place; Jesus was dead, then He was alive, then He appeared a few times, then He ascended into heaven and then He left them alone. And while he promised them that he would not leave them comfortless there they are in Jerusalem, waiting at this point for about 10 days and feeling alone.

They now believe in and have experienced the Resurrected Christ, which has transformed them into a subset of an already oppressed religion and race. At this point in history and this part of the world the Jews are considered an annoyance at best by the Roman Empire. A backwoods people, in a trodden down trading route. If that wasn’t bad enough, the disciples are now the outcasts in the minds of those people, the backwoods people. So after Jesus ascends and leaves them alone in this new obscure sect, they go back to Jerusalem. They go back to where they are familiar, and they, to their credit, do just as Christ told them, they wait.

While they are waiting the Festival of Shavuot arrives on their liturgical calendar. Shavuot can be translated weeks, so some of you may have heard of this called the Festival of Weeks. The Jewish Festival of Shavuot was to be celebrated seven weeks after the Passover. While Passover was, and is, the time when Jews remember being freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh in Egypt, it is at Shavuot that the people celebrate God giving them the Torah, the first five books in the Bible containing the Ten Commandments, making them the people of God, a nation, holy and separate. For us this would be somewhat like celebrating Independence Day on the fourth of July, the day we mark as the beginning of our nation, the United States. We celebrate with food and fireworks; they celebrate with food and flowers. In time and in some parts of the world, The Festival of Shavuot would come to be known as Pentecost, after the Greek word pentecoste, which means fifty. While there is a little dispute about exact dates, Shavuot usually began 50 days after the end of the Passover. Following that pattern, the Christian liturgical calendar marks Pentecost at about 50 days after The Resurrection. In parallel, At Easter we remember and celebrate that God in Christ overcame death and freed us from the bonds of slavery to sin. Today, at Pentecost, we celebrate the day God came to us, dwelled in us and empowered us to be the people of God, the Church, holy and separate.

Going back to the disciples, we find them on this day; Shavuot, Pentecost, still waiting… and suddenly God shows up. The Holy Spirit descends on them, fills them, they begin speaking in many different languages proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and His Resurrection to the thousands gathered from all over the empire to celebrate during the festival. After waiting, all the disciples, at least 120 of them, probably more, have now gotten what they were waiting for. God himself, in the form of His Holy Spirit is with them, and in them. They are no longer alone, and they have been filled with power.  It is truly holy chaos, to the point of some wondering whether everyone is already drunk in celebration. It is at that point, that Peter gets up and begins to preach. The new Common English Bible records that moment this way;

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel; “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams.”
A few weeks ago I was at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida. I was there as part of my position with the United Methodist Publishing House. As many know, General Conference is made up of delegates, evenly split between clergy and laity, and is the sole decision making body for the denomination. This General Conference was, in my memory, one of the most contentious and stressful. I won’t go into all the details and all the issues and all the hurt that happened, but I will say for the most part when the General Conference adjourned many were left in a state of confusion, waiting and feeling alone. It will be weeks, even months, before we know the final outcome for many of the actions implemented at General Conference or if they will even be put into affect. But even as the confusion began to take place something else began to happen. All over the Methodist connection, people began to envision a United Methodist Church that still had a place in God’s plan! People began to dream of a United Methodist Church that will make a difference in this world for Jesus Christ! Young people began having visions and Elders began dreaming dreams! A Pentecostal awakening of sorts had begun!

Toward the end of General Conference many begin using the hash-tag line #DreamUMC when they made statements on Twitter. As many of you know, Twitter is a social media website and smart-phone application, where people can post thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or just about anything that pops into their head… as long as it fits in 140 typed characters. How it works is that you send the message in the form of a text and anyone who has an account can read your posts. About two years ago the Library of Congress even began recording every post by every person on Twitter. This year Twitter was being used by thousands of people during General Conference, of all ages and of all walks of life, delegates on the floor and people sitting at home watching via the internet. Out of that #DreamUMC twitter tag line, has grown a movement of people, younger and older, who are dreaming again.

Two weeks ago hundreds of these dreamers met virtually and began to formulate their visions and dreams for The United Methodist Church, our role in the world, and our hopes for the future into words and actions. Being one of these dreamers has given me a renewed passion for The United Methodist Church as a whole and renewed passion, vision and dreams for this local congregation at Zion. It has been a truly Pentecostal experience.

It has been almost 2000 years since that first Pentecost, when the Spirit of Christ filled the 120 and they went out proclaiming the Good News and dreaming big dreams! In time they literally changed the world, because they had been filled with the power of the Holy Ghost, the very same power that fills and empowers you today! As believers you have not only been commissioned by Christ, as we were reminded last week, but you have been equipped to do great things thru the Spirit of Christ. Great things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, comforting the hurting, freeing those trapped in slavery. But also the often-overlooked things in our membership vows; lifting your prayers, being present, sharing your gifts, performing service, and proclaiming your witness. As a part of the universal church, who’s birthday we celebrate today, you are both called and empowered to carry on the work of the 120 plus disciples who first experienced this Holy Ghost outpouring of power. I believe today, at Pentecost, is an appropriate time for the disciples that gather here at the Zion United Methodist Church to begin to see visions and dream dreams again!

In 1740, Charles Wesley gave us a prayer in the form of a hymn to encourage the people called Methodist to be a people of Pentecost. A Spirit filled, a Spirit empowered, a Spirit led people. He penned these words;

“Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire, Let us Thine influence prove: Source of the old prophetic fire, Fountain of life and love.
Come, Holy Ghost, for moved by Thee, The prophets wrote and spoke; Unlock the truth, Thyself the key, Unseal the sacred book.
Expand Thy wings, celestial Dove, Brood o’er our nature’s night; On our disordered spirits move, And let there now be light.
God, through Himself, we then shall know If Thou within us shine, And sound with all Thy saints below, The depths of love divine.”

And so today, on Pentecost, I am asking you what are your Dreams? What do you envision?  I try to end sermons with a call to discipleship and today that comes in those questions. What are your Dreams, what will you envision? I encourage you this week to take some time to specifically pray… seeking the Holy Ghost to fill you with Dreams and Visions for what God will do through you, through Zion and through the United Methodist Church.

In the Name of Jesus, whom we call the Christ, and who’s Holy Spirit fills us anew again today, Amen.


Go forth now as Pentecost people, 
filled with the Spirit, dreaming dreams, and seeing visions of God's possibilities. Go forth, knowing we are beloved and blessed by a God who never leaves us alone. Go forth, to be surprised by the Spirit in all that you dream and do. Go forth, claiming your identity as Pentecost people; people of dreams and visions, people filled with that most amazing and transforming Holy Spirit. Amen.

22 October 2011

Insulting the Good Name

My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism? You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself” James 2:5-8 CEB

Last Sunday I watched as two children were brought to the altar, by parents, family and friends; and presented for Holy Baptism. What could become routine in our sacred life, the act of initiating souls in the church and marking them as Christ's own, was for me, more powerful than usual. What struck me, was that the two children were, while at that moment blameless and innocent before God, faced with two very differing futures.

The first child was one of my cousin's second precious baby boy. My cousin and her husband own their home, they have two nice cars and as many children. Both are college educated and have careers they love. They attend professional sporting events and county fairs. They are, while not rich, for the sake of argument, living the modern 'American Dream' and find themselves securely in the middle class. Their son will be raised in the suburbs, attend private schools, and, if his father can make it happen, play football as soon as he can walk all the way through college. Needless to say, barring an unforeseen event, this child will partake of the many advantages of our modern American life.

The second precious child was the first son of a young Hispanic couple. This family lives in one of the, shall we say, 'less nice' areas of the inner city in a rented dwelling, where all the children attend public schools. They have block parties and they play soccer in the streets. His parents did not attend college, did not speak English as their first tongue and in our current economic situation are not leading the careers they probably would have dreamed. They, for the sake of argument, are part of the American working class, and possibly even in poverty. This child, and millions of others like him, could be considered to have the deck stacked against him right from the start, at a disadvantage in our culture through no fault of his own.

Both children were surrounded by family who loved them, friends who support them and parents who have dreams of bright futures, with hope. Both had received the sacrament in water. At almost the precise same time, their parents had renounced sin and promised before God and our witness to train these children in the way that leads to eternal life. As a Wesleyan, I believe that at that moment previeniant Grace, drawing ALL of us toward Christ, was seen in the life of these children through baptism. Both were anointed with holy oil by the priest, as a sign of being sealed in Christ and His church by the power of His Holy Spirit. In years to come these boys may attend confirmation classes together and will probably receive communion for the first time at the same altar. And yet, as we all left the sanctuary, and the two groups departed to their separate receptions on separate sides of town, I could not help but ponder; With the inequality that has, and continues, to exist in our world, where will these children be in twenty-five years? I questioned wether we, the church, would allow this world and culture to "insult the good name spoken" over these boys at baptism?

The questions came from my belief that the church is called to, and can, change this world. How does the church work to see that both of these children, while equal before God, also have equal opportunity in what has been called the 'land of opportunity'.

I have not the answers, but my heart longs for them. I long for the world that is to come: Where tears do not flow, where sickness is gone, where fear has no grip and where death has no power. As a believer that the kingdom is not yet, I still believe that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom is now... That the church is called to dry tears, heal wounds, comfort the scared and proclaim life eternal. So my heart asks, how does the church work for the equality, of having all things in common as proclaimed by the early church, in a culture that thrives on self and stuff?

I do not believe the answer is the 'class warfare' that some would be 'Robin Hoods' proclaim, nor has it been found in the modern welfare system that relegates so many to a cycle of poverty. I also can not believe that the most wealthy society the world has ever seen, should be satisfied when obesity and starvation exist on the same city block. We should not be satisfied with an educational system that allows some children to graduate without the ability to read, unless their parents happen to be able to afforded private schools, tutors or a home in a 'better' part of town.

While, I still believe that our government has many good reasons to exist and many important functions to perform, it is not our Savior and neither should it be our church. So my heart continues to ask, how does the church, make the Kingdom of God, and the equality found in Christ, real in the life of both of these children... knowing it has to be a lot bigger than what happens for an hour or two on Sunday mornings.