About Bill Burch

Theology literally means "words about God." The divine Word described in human words--heavenly treasure in jars of clay. Bill is a practical theologian sharing his worldview. To misquote Lucy van Pelt: "Theological help 5¢--the doctor is IN!" Bill serves as the senior pastor at Northside United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is married to Tracy who is a school teacher, and they have two adult children: Katie and Will. Their third "child" is a Yorkshire Terrier named Sam.

Pray for Those in Authority

I’ve weary of people taking potshots at our governor and mayor, including some of my fellow Christians and clergy.  Our political leaders face incredible challenges, juggling multiple responsibilities and demands. Any decision will outrage a portion of the populace.

I’m amazed that people who have never run a hundred member organization know exactly how to govern a state or city. Monday morning quarterbacks abound, all smugly confident they possess the perfect plan for yesterday’s game.

I do not know Governor Brian Kemp or Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms personally. I believe they are people of faith who seek the best for their constituents. No doubt, they have made and will continue to make mistakes. They are human beings working with limited knowledge and conflicting advice. We can disagree with their decisions without attacking their integrity or intellect.

I’m also tired of the false dichotomy of “people or profits.” It’s not an either/or equation. People make profits. Profits support people. Balancing public health with economic stability on a high wire without a net would make a trapeze artist blanch in fear.

For those who chant “shelter in place” as a mantra, I wholeheartedly agree that our society needs to practice social distancing to protect the vulnerable. However, recognize that the ability to work from home is a socioeconomic privilege that many do not enjoy.  A large percentage of our population must physically show up at work in order to get paid.

Let’s also recognize that the ability to stay at home is based on others who go to work. Clerks stock shelves and bag groceries. Nurses and doctors care for the sick. Sanitation workers pick up the trash. Truck drivers deliver the goods. Big box stores supply construction and DIY projects. Restaurants provide takeout food.

Paul calls the church to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 1:1-2). Let us spend more time praying for our leaders and less time demonizing those who disagree with us.

Toilet Paper Roles

TP ShortageThe COVID-19 pandemic has made toilet paper a topic of socially polite conversation. Reports of shortages and hoarding lead the evening news. People triumphantly post on social media when they find the elusive product in stores. Others ask if anyone can spare a square.

Two toilet paper commercials recently caught my attention.

Charmin is continuing its regular ad campaign, featuring freaky cartoon bears who openly discuss their bathroom habits. In a time of crucial shortages, the commercials are offensively oblivious to the current crisis.

Cottonelle, on the other hand, released an ad assuring consumers of increased production that will soon restock empty shelves. The company is collaborating with the United Way to provide toilet paper to the needy.

Crisis tempts us to turn inward, focusing on survival and self-interest. However, the same challenge also provides the opportunity to turn outward, focusing on service and others. Whether it’s a company, congregation, family, or individual, the choice remains the same.

Shame on Charmin. Kudos to Cottonelle.

Challenge & Opportunity

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect every aspect of church and society. In mid-March, Northside Church suspended all gatherings and shifted to online worship only. Easter marked the fifth Sunday without public worship.

Covid 19I keep waiting for the “new normal” everyone talks about, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Each week presents new challenges and opportunities.

Working in a COVID-19 world feels like assembling an IKEA project while wearing heavy gloves. Completing the project might be possible, but it requires an inordinate amount of time, energy, effort, and patience.

However, the church is learning new ways to do old and new things. Also, we are discovering that some of the old things weren’t worth doing at all. How will the present crisis inform future ministry?

In Isaiah 43:19, God proclaimed, “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

Challenge and opportunity arrive together. Normal won’t be back. God, allow your church to be open to the new things you are birthing.


It Came to Pass

During Bible study, a pastor asked participants to share their favorite Scripture passages. An elderly woman said, “My favorite verses in the Bible all begin with the words, ‘It came to pass.’”

it came to passConfused, the minister asked, “Why is this phrase so important to you?”

The wise saint replied, “Because, preacher, the Bible says, “It came to PASS,” but it does not say, “It came to STAY!”

Crisis narrows our horizons and perceptions. We pull into ourselves and focus on me and mine. It’s easy to imagine that the COVID-19 crisis has come to stay.

Faith grants an eternal perspective that sees life beyond the moment. Hope broadens horizons and perceptions. Love reminds us that we’re not alone.

In the King James Version of the Bible, verses often begin with the words, “It came to pass.” They never say, ‘It came to stay.”


COVID-19 & Calendars

Call me a Boomer, but I’m still a paper calendar kinda guy. I appreciate seeing the month at a glance and checking off tasks with a pen. Between vocational and personal commitments, my calendar remains full.

Until Thursday, March 12.

In a press conference, Governor Kemp urged organizations to discontinue large public gatherings. Later in the day local school systems cancelled classes. The next day Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson strongly advised United Methodist congregations to cancel worship services.

Suddenly, my calendar cleared.

Calendar Covid 19Out of morbid curiosity, I marked cancelled meetings and events with a red X. I’m up to 29 now and counting! However, something strange occurred. A clearer calendar led to a heavier workload.

First, we’re learning creative ways to accomplish daily tasks. Old dogs can learn new tricks, but the canine gets dog-tired in the process. Second, social distancing and video/conference calls aren’t as effective or efficient as person-to-person interaction. Finally, uncertainty and anxiety dampen our spirits.

I regularly have to take a deep breath and allow my shoulders to relax. Then the Holy Spirit reminds me that the Lord God Almighty is still in control. We serve the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. All of life takes place within the context of God’s providential care.



Virtual Worship

During the COVID-19 crisis, Northside Church has suspended gatherings in the congregation and community for the near future. However, we continue to offer online worship services Sundays at 9:45 and 11:00 on Facebook and www.Northsideumc.org. The church website also features videos of the services and sermons.

Some churches are calling their online services “Virtual Worship.” Dictionary entries for the word “virtual” include:

  • Almost but not exactly in every way a thing or quality
  • Seen, heard, or experienced on a computer

At Northside, we reject the first definition and embrace the second. Online worship is NOT “almost but not exactly” worship. Whether worship occurs in person or online, we are the body of Christ praising God.

Join us in worship each Sunday as an online community of faith.

Virtual Worship

Sam the Yorkshire Terrier watching Northside’s online service last Sunday with me. 

A Rorschach Bookshelf Test

ink blotHermann Rorschach published his self-named “Rorschach Ink Blot Test” in 1921 to identify personality characteristics. As an armchair psychologist, I have created the “Bill Burch Bookshelf Test.” It’s easy to take—just list the items on your bookshelves, and let a friend diagnose how messed-up you are!

For example, here’s a partial list of things you will find on my office bookshelves:

  • 18 Bibles
  • 15 pictures of family
  • 13 Coca-Cola commemorative bottles
  • 8 Nativity sets
  • 5 ocean polished stones from Iona, Scotland
  • 2 Communion patens and chalices
  • 1 plug-in, bubbling, Christmas candle
  • NCAA baseball from a Georgia Tech foul ball
  • Foam bison from a Northside staff retreat—long story!
  • Bound collections of “Calvin & Hobbes” and “The Far Side”
  • Various cups, including a Dunder Mifflin coffee mug
  • Model of Snoopy perched atop his doghouse
  • Shadow box with fragments from the Berlin Wall
  • Hand painted Easter egg
  • Oh, and books!

After scoring the test, it’s obvious that I am a highly intelligent and gifted person of character who is well balanced in every way with no neuroses or psychoses!

How does your list reveal what’s important to you?

Life Lessons from Wile E. Coyote & the Road Runner

road runnerWile E. Coyote and the Road Runner taught me some valuable life lessons as a child. The cartoon characters’ Saturday morning antics revealed:

  • When you run off a cliff, keep moving your feet and don’t look down.
  • Gravity is a real DELETED BY CENSOR.
  • Parasols are poor protection against falling boulders.
  • The Acme Corporation sells all the gear necessary to catch a fast adversary.
  • Coyotes have more lives than cats.
  • Cannon balls sting but cause no permanent harm.

Most of all, the Coyote taught me to keep trying no matter how many times I failed.

Beep, beep!

Training or Being Trained

A friend recently shared a thought-provoking adage with me: “In every relationship, someone is being trained.” Like all maxims, the pithy statement contains a limited truth. In the best of relationships, we submit to one another, both training and being trained.

However, consider the concept on a broader scope.

  • In our relationship with our smart phones, are we training or being trained?
  • In our relationship with the internet, are we training or being trained?
  • In our relationship with social media, are we training or being trained?
  • In our relationship with unchurched people, are we training or being trained?
  • In our relationship with children about attending Sunday School and church, are we training or being trained?
  • In our relationship with the world, are we training or being trained?

“In every relationship, someone is being trained.”

Are we formed by the world or transformed by the Lord?