there have been some changes in the diocese leadership lately, and some changes in pastor placements as well. these changes and my impending transition back to the united states and the united methodist church have got me thinking a lot about gifts, fruits of the spirit, manifestations of the imago dei in we simple human beings.

in paul’s letter to the ephesians we read that “the gifts [the lord] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saits for the work of ministry, for building up the body of christ…” (ephesians 4:11-12)

something that gives me great joy is to affirm the gifts and talents of others. to see the unique ways that god has gifted individuals and communities–to affirm and encourage the continued development and use of those gifts. this is one of my favorite parts of being in and living in [a] community.

my communities of the years have repeatedly affirmed my gift of encouragement, and i know the joy and fulfillment i feel when i use this gift. one of the most beautiful things about being “an encourager” is that it is always “other-centered”. encouraging is never about me–it is always about affirmation of someone or a community and being used as conduit of god to offer words of encouragement and well, affirmation. (apologies for potential over use of the word ‘affirmation’ i’m a wesleyan methodist, its in my nature!)

last sunday in church, the song leaders began a song (i believe in lwo) and the congregation was sort of halfheartedly singing along. one of our church of uganda pastors who was visiting that week came forward and began to lead the song. at first i glanced to the woman who had been leading-thinking “goodness, how rude that this fellow would just come forward and hijack the leadership like that!” and searching her face for similar feelings. and wondering if i should speak with this pastor after church about this sort of behaviour.

but then i noticed something. the congregation. had come. alive. they were really singing and really clapping. not just going through the motions but really worshiping through the song. this is not to say that the woman leading before was doing a bad job. not at all, she did a beautiful job leading us in song. this isn’t to say, either, that the congregation wasn’t engaged in meaningful worship before. my point is that one of this pastor’s gifts is leading a congregation in worshiping through song.

his face was full of light–he was in tune with the congregation and led them to where they needed to be–and he was clearly filled with joy to be doing what he was doing.

glancing back at the woman who had been leading before i noticed that she was also grinning, she was singing louder–clapping with more enthusiasm–ululating and dancing.

my response, of course, was to cry. and i will freely admit to you, reader, that reliving the scene now brings tears to my eyes again. when we move our selfish selves out of the way and let the spirit move through ours and others gifts beautiful things happen. we move into a thin-space where we are just that much closer to god.

another illustration:  yesterday evening i was invited to a neighbor’s house for porridge and conversation.  (an aside, yes, i like porridge. as long as i can put a little sugar in it i’m quite content to drink it for a meal.) we were three– rev. r.o. and j.l. one of rev r’s grandsons is living with him and his wife, mama o. little r is coming to 3 years old and is in the baby-class at a local primary school. watching rev. r with little r is just beautiful.

little r loves his granddad (he calls him daddy) and wants to be everywhere daddy goes. and rev r uses nearly every moment as a teaching moment. telling little r how good boys behave, and how jesus wants us to act as his followers. rev r asks little r questions and engages him in his decision making. he gives little r options and they come to decisions together. rev r is has the gift of teaching. the gift of loving.

admittedly until he was transferred to our church here in kotido he wasn’t one of my favorite people in the diocese. for a while he was just working in the diocese offices and i’d cringe when he’d knock on my door. looking back now i see that he wasn’t using his true gifts–and that makes us unhappy, even if we are unaware of why we are feeling unfulfilled. he is now the vicar of our church and living into his gifts as teacher and organizer of a congregation. seeing his gifts shine in the church and now with his little grandson have proven to me, yet again, that when we are allowed to truly use our gifts the world really can be a better place.

the office is a better place to be, his and my relationship alone is much happier and grace-filled than it was before, and the gradual changes he is bringing to the church are, i believe, truly going to make it a more holy and faithful place to worship.

it has been my joy to be able to affirm both of these pastors, and the mama who stepped aside in leading songs last week. to affirm that yes, you do this very well. and god gave you that gift, please continue to use it!

what gifts do you see in the people around you?

what gifts do you see in  yourself?

how can you affirm your neighbor’s gifts and talents today?



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