The Class of ’84

Bishop Joel McDavid ordained me as an elder in the North Georgia Annual Conference on June 11, 1984. A photograph captured the Class of ’84 standing on the front steps of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church. Twenty-seven men and women of diverse ages and ethnicities comprised the group.

This year I discovered the black and white picture in my files. Other than an afro hairstyle and bushy mustache, 2022 Bill Burch strongly resembles the 1984 version. Of course, I occasionally lie to myself.

Twenty-seven pastors began the journey of ordained ministry together. I scanned the faces and read the names of the clergy. I recall most of the people, but some memories have faded like a sepia photograph.

I’m uncertain what happened to a handful of my colleagues. Most retired over the past years. A few tragically died along the way. To the best of my knowledge, only two of us remain in active ministry thirty-eight years later.

The caption under the photograph reads:

“Under the providence of Almighty God and in recognition of His Eternal Glory, I, a bishop of The United Methodist Church, and several elders, have, by the imposition of our hands and by prayer set these apart for the work of an Elder, to read the Holy Scriptures in the Church of God, to preach the word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments in the congregation, so long as they continue to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ and adhere to and teach the Gospel of our Lord and the doctrine of the Church.”

Here’s to the Class of ’84 along with my fellow clergy both present and absent.

Romans 12:12

Paul encouraged the church in Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” The verse has inspired my soul during the holidays and into the New Year.

“Rejoice in hope.” Paul reveals a vital connection between the attributes of joy and hope. Christians rejoice in the present because of our hope for the future. The Holy Spirit exhorts my soul with a two-word refrain, “Choose joy!” Christians possess an eternal perspective that enables us to claim Frederick Buechner’s reminder, “Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.”

“Be patient in tribulation.” A meme on a clergy site declared, ‘Being a pastor is easy. It’s like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire. You are on fire. And the committee for fire suppression needs a quorum!” Everyone faces troubles and trials. Patience recognizes that this too shall pass.  In the interim, we listen for God’s voice in the midst of the storm and in the aftermath of the stillness.

“Be constant in prayer.” Constancy means spending specific times and all times in God’s presence. Devotional discipline sets aside daily times and places for divine appointments. However, sanctified spirits experience the Holy Spirit’s presence in every time and place.

Join me in committing Romans 12:12 to memory. Recite the verse as a devotional aid. Repeat the words as a breath prayer. Claim the passage every moment of the day and night.  

Joy. Hope. Patience. Tribulation. Constancy. Prayer. Here, we find God, and God finds us.

New Year’s Resolutions

New Years REsolutionsOn January 1, many of us made New Year’s resolutions. During the holidays, we overindulged in too much of too much. The birth of a New Year inspired plans of diet, exercise, and thriftiness.

Resolutions born at midnight on December 31st, however, seldom survive the first weeks of January. Habit is a hard master to overthrow. By mid-month, the new and improved model greatly resembles the old and not so improved model!

We can scoff at the idea of spontaneous resolutions leading to lasting change. However, we serve a God of fresh starts and second chances. Today can be different from yesterday; and tomorrow can be different from today.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul declares: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Our “re-creation” in Christ is both event and process as we grow into the image of our Savior.

Jesus began his ministry preaching the message, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel.” The time has come for repentance rather than resolutions. This year can be new in more than name alone!

The Day after Christmas

Dec 26

Each year I share my one attempt at poetry entitled “The Day after Christmas.” It reminds us that Christmas is not only a day or a season but also a lifestyle. May we celebrate the good news of Christ coming into the world year-round. 

‘Twas the day after Christmas and all were asleep

The twenty-fifth had left them all tired and beat.

The stockings were slung carelessly on the floor

Stripped of their contents and of interest no more.

The children were exhausted, collapsed in their beds,

With visions of sleeping-in fixed in their heads.

And mama in her flannel and me with my mate,

Were in hopes that we too might get to sleep late.

When out in the front there arose such a racket

I sprang from my bed like a frightened jackrabbit.

I stubbed my big toe on the way to the door,

And set off the alarm system on the first floor.

The early sun’s light shone bright on the toys

Left in the front yard yesterday by my boys.

Then I saw a car splashing right through the muck,

A red, white and blue delivery truck.

My head was aching and my stomach felt ill,

As the postman delivered a hand full of bills!

The charges were listed in dollars and cents,

Payment would empty the United States’ mints.

Now, Visa! Now, Penney’s! Now, Macy’s and Rich’s!

On, Walmart! On, K-Mart! On Abercrombie and Fitch’s!

November and December we had a great ball,

Come January, we owe something to all.

I made my way through a maze of presents piled high,

Looked again at the bills and gave a great sigh.

Turkey bones roosted on the dining room table,

Yesterday we ate all we were able.

I tried to turn on the new espresso maker,

Complete with a digital, alarm clock waker.

My family stumbled slowly down the stairs

As cordial as a den of hibernating bears.

I bent down to pet our faithful dog, Carl,

But he snapped at my fingers and let out a snarl.

My wife dressed quite quickly and shouted to all,

“I’m going bargain hunting all day at the mall!”

The children slammed the door behind them as well,

Going to friends’ homes for Christmas show and tell.

And I collapsed in my brand new easy chair,

To see how my favorite football teams would fare.

I held a glass of Alka-Seltzer firmly in my fist

Regretting last night’s snack I should have missed.

During halftime I arose from the recliner,

My team was ahead and the world seemed much finer.

Wading through the wrapping paper piled knee high

Something on the mantle piece caught my eye.

Half hidden beneath discarded ribbons and bows:

The manger scene had been placed weeks ago.

Carefully clearing the bright paper away

I witnessed the reminder of that first Christmas day.

The Christ child rested in a bed simple and small

Sent by God into the world to save us all.

Nativity figures of that first silent night,

Made it quite clear what had been lost to sight.

“A Happy Christmas to all!” is because of God’s son,

On the day after, our Christmas has only begun.

  

Christmas at Northside Church

Join us for worship at Northside Church as we celebrate Christ’s coming into the world!

The Christmas Experience returns for a second year on Thursday, December 23. Children of all ages will enjoy a family-focused experience with animals, cookies, hot cocoa/coffee, carolers, a Nativity Scene, Holy Communion and worship.

We will offer six in-person Christmas Eve Services on Friday, December 24, including:

  • Traditional Services (Sanctuary)                              12:00, 2:00, 4:00, & 6:00
  • Contemporary Services (Faith & Arts Center)           3:00 & 5:00

You can join us both onsite and online. The 12:00, 3:00, and 6:00 services will be live-streamed. Also, the recordings will be archived for those who want to watch them later on the church’s website.

Registration is required for both the Christmas Experience and the Christmas Eve Services at  www.NorthsideUMC.org/Christmas. In order to safeguard everyone’s health, seating is limited, and some services may be sold out.

During this holiest of seasons, “O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!”

The Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity marks the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. When Emperor Constantine of Rome became a Christian in the 4th century, his mother, Helena, visited the Holy Land. She commissioned a number of basilicas (churches) to be built over sacred sites, including the Church of the Nativity.

“O little town of Bethlehem” is not so little anymore. The population of 25,000 hosts 2 million tourists annually. Figures of celestial beings, stars, and shepherds fill the small city a few miles south of Jerusalem.

Commerce rules at Manger Square where merchants prey on religious pilgrims. Tourists can purchase postcards, scarves, crosses, mangers, angels, camels, and more. Forests of carved olive wood figures fill the stores’ shelves. If a herald angel appeared today, no one would hear the natal news above the din of engines, horns, and crowds.

The basilica’s low entrance causes congregations to duck. Church officials lowered the entrance to prevent people from riding horses, camels, and donkeys into the building. The trivia tickled my sense of humor; but it felt fitting to humbly bow while entering the ancient sanctuary.

The Church of the Nativity precariously balances sacred and secular, grandeur and gaudy, touching and tacky. Crimson glass-blown balls hang from the ceilings and cloying incense perfumes the air. In an odd anachronism, energy-saving, curly florescent bulbs provide modern light from ancient fixtures.

The 14-point star marks the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

Forget Christmas card, manger scenes complete with barn and stable—Jesus’ birth probably occurred in a cave. A stairwell descends to a small grotto guarded by a priest. A 14-point silver star beneath an altar marks the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

I have visited the Church of the Nativity several times and always felt underwhelmed. The ornate setting of the nativity feels like a visual oxymoron—the humble scene of Jesus’ birth overlaid with gilded with glitter and glitz.   

I prefer the Shepherd’s Fields south of town. A peaceful garden overlooks the green slopes ascending to Bethlehem. In the foreground, shepherds tend their flocks as their ancestors did millennia ago. The simple scene reflects the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth much more than the bustling business of Bethlehem.

For those with ears to hear, the angelic message still echoes over the plains. “Good news . . . great joy . . . for all people . . . born to us today . . . a Savior . . . Christ . . . the Lord.”

Like the shepherds, may we say to one another, “Let us go see this thing which the Lord has done.

The Pink Pig

People debate the official start of the holiday season. Retailers introduce ads in the early fall. Traditionalists wait until the Friday after Thanksgiving. Religious precisionists insist December 25th introduces the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Growing up in Georgia, I knew that the holidays began on Thanksgiving night at 7:28 p.m. when Rich’s lighted the Great Tree in downtown Atlanta.

Rich’s glowed bright with magic and imagination in December. The multistory emporium doubled as Santa’s southern workshop. The storefront windows and department store counters contained childhood’s dreams. A native grown pine crowned the building with basketball-sized ornaments and brightly colored lights.

Each December my family made our annual holiday pilgrimage to Rich’s. My sister and I craned our necks to be the first to spot the Great Tree. After parking in a covered deck, we crossed the seven-story bridge spanning Forsyth Street.

The Rich’s bakery produced delectable treats. The glass shelves groaned under the weight of glazed donuts, frosted cookies, pralines, fruitcakes, pecan pies, chocolate drops, candied apples, toffee, and caramel.

My mother loved the fruit bars. My father and sister stuck to the chocolate eclairs. I preferred the rainbow selection of candy fruit slices.

Santa Claus resided on the top floor of the department store. Bolstered by a sugar high, we joined a long line meandering through the carpet department. After a two-hour wait, the final turn revealed the BIG MAN himself, clothed in red velvet and ivory fur. Naughty and nice children spent one minute rapidly reciting their Christmas wishes. A bright flash and exchange of cash preserved photographic memories.

Another line filed past Santa’s live reindeer. Nameplates identified the eight creatures who pulled the flying sleigh. Then we ascended to the roof where the Pink Pig ruled in all of its mechanical glory.

The elevated train sported hot pink cars named Priscilla and Percival with porcine faces and curly tails. It originally hung from the ceiling over the Toy Department before rumbling and rattling around Rich’s roof. Even small children felt cramped in the cage-like compartments.

For children of my era, the ride felt magical. A polar express to the North Pole could not have been any more enchanting. The next day at school I proudly wore my “I Rode the Pink Pig!” sticker as a pink badge of courage.

The years have passed with Christmases come and gone. After the demolition of the downtown store, the Great Tree relocated to Lenox Square in 2000.

The original Pink Pig moved to the Festival of Trees at the Atlanta World Congress. Then it retired to a sty of honor at the Atlanta History Center. In 2003, Macy’s reinvented the ride at its Lenox Square location. This fall the store announced Priscilla’s latest retirement from the Atlanta cityscape.

I fondly recall childhood’s holiday memories. Today our family enjoys its own Christmas traditions. We are “making memories” for our children and grandchild that will always remain a part of their lives. If they remember the past with the same sense of wonder and warmth that their father enjoys, then I’ll be tickled pink.

An Early Christmas

A Hallmark display at a local store caught my eye. The sign above the holiday greeting cards declared, “Christmas is December 25th.” Huh. Good to know!

Many bemoan how the holidays arrive earlier each year. Retailers anxious for Christmas sales begin Black Friday sales on July 4th. Costco erected a winter wonderland of snowmen and penguins in September. XM Radio premiered their holiday stations on November 1.

And Hobby Lobby . . . well, the home goods store celebrates three seasons: Last Christmas, This Christmas, and Next Christmas.

I’ve always resisted the Hallowthankmas holiday madness, choosing to observe the day after Thanksgiving as my personal advent of the holidays. However, I’ve experienced a Dicken’s-like change of heart.

December days rush by so quickly with over-committed calendars and hectic schedules. December 26th always dawns with an awareness that I never accomplished everything hoped for or planned during the holiday rush.

Therefore, this year I’m celebrating an early Christmas.

I’m decking the halls, listening to Christmas music, and singing “The Twelve,” well, I draw the line at singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Seven Nativity Scenes adorn my office. A candle ornament plugged into an outlet bubbles merrily away. I’ve been sipping egg nog since mid-November. If I had some chestnuts, they would be roasting on an open fire. 

Oh, I fight the occasional urge to say, “Bah, humbug.” I’m a recovering Scrooge with occasional lapses. However, life’s too short to miss the advent of the Holy Day Season.

Christmas is December 25th this year. But why wait? Start celebrating an early Christmas today!

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

The Morning News

I watch the morning news while getting ready for work. Despite years of loyal viewership, WSB never solicits my opinions. IM always HO, they need to hear the following comments.

I just woke up and possess little tolerance for silliness and banter. Deliver the news, not zany antics and caffeinated comments.

The five-day forecast provides all the weather info I need. Post the graphic for 20 seconds, and I’m good to go. Don’t breathlessly tease important details to be delivered ten minutes later.

Meteorologists who take credit or blame for the weather possess a God-complex. Don’t assign adjectives to climate. Never judge a day by its weather.

The traffic reporter issuing a forecast for afternoon road congestion is absurd. First, s/he doesn’t know. Second, it’s Atlanta–traffic will be heavy!

Abstain from saying “Good morning” to each member of the news crew during every segment. We assume you exchanged greetings upon arrival. 

Refrain from bragging about your news coverage. Viewers can figure it out for themselves.

Avoid overused words and phrases like “actually,” “literally,” “exclusive,” “breaking news,” and “ongoing story.” Make sure nouns and verbs agree. Learn how to use comparatives, superlatives, and absolutes.

Use “police officers” or “law enforcement personnel” instead of “cops.” They deserve our respect.

Don’t air video preceded with the words, “This is difficult to watch.”

This is Bill Burch reporting live from my Word Press blog site.