From time to time, I get asked, "Why are you United Methodist?" They usually ask this because of some headline they see somewhere crying out about the latest controversy within our connection, or because they are bemoaning "the direction of the church" (whatever that means - Wesley himself expressed fear he had about what the movement could become,) or because they see other denominations or independent churches that seem to have things better than we do.

Depending on the questioner, my response will vary, but will always contain some sort of paraphrase of that saying about democracy often attributed to Winston Churchill - "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." 

In other words, my answer will acknowledge that yes, we do, like all families from time to time have issues that, hopefully, we can work through, and, yes, we have those things that, unfortunately, do cause division, but there is so much to love about our theology: our understanding of God's grace at work in the world (the simple idea that we believe that ALL, no matter who they are or where they've been or what they've done, have received a measure of God's grace, as well as the free will to accept or reject that grace,) and the fact that we are not individual islands left to our own devices. No, indeed! We are a connection that comes together to hold one another accountable and to support one another in our ministries.

As part of our connection, each year each church has to submit year-end statistical data to their district office, along with proof of insurance, copies of W-2's (to ensure compliance with tax laws,) a report listing the funds of the church and where they are located (as well as all money in and all money out,) verification that we are in compliance with our Safe Sanctuaries mandate (risk reduction for staff and volunteers,) an attestation signed by the treasurer and the senior pastor that all money given to the church was used in accordance with the wishes of the donors, and other information that we use to check one another.

This data is collected during a 2-3 day process known as the audit, which is run by the District Audit Team under the supervision of the District Superintendent. One of the responsibilities I have been asked to take on involves chairing the New Orleans District Audit team. We meet one day on the northshore and one day on the southshore, meeting with every pastor going over the information for every church. 

Yesterday, we, the people of North Cross, were privileged to host our northshore pastors in our sanctuary, and I was reminded once again of the joy of being part of this connectional church. To know that someone was going through to check our information gave me a peace of mind that we weren't out here all alone. I, along with the members of the audit team (including our own Kathy Pfleider) were able to celebrate and console with our brothers and sisters laboring in other UM churches, and to learn from one another not only about the data reported, but, most importantly, the ministries behind the data. In certain cases, we also were able to assist those who needed some help completing their data, as well as offer advice about things that may not be familiar to them or their people.

Kathy and I, along with the other members of the team, will be traveling to St. Matthew's UMC in Metairie today to meet with our southshore friends and colleagues for another day of celebrating once again being part of such a strong connection. 

Even more exciting, though, is knowing that THIS SUNDAY, January 26, not only do we get to continue our 'Surprised By Hope' series by looking at the fact that Jesus' second coming is not necessarily the scary thing we've often been led to believe, but we also will be celebrating the baptism of one of our new babies, Connor Woodrow, and the baptism of his father, BJ, while also welcoming the family into our membership. If everything goes according to plan, we will also have some others join this Sunday, making January 2014 a great start to the year! You won't want to miss what will be a GREAT day of celebration!

Grace and Peace, Lamar