Stretching boundaries with Holy Yoga

March 1, 2014 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Kathy K. Martin

285824_t607BY KATHY L. MARTIN

Meet Jesus on your yoga mat.

That is the mission of Holy Yoga, a Christ-centered practice of yoga that came to Memphis at Independent Presbyterian Church almost two years ago.

This practice goes beyond the basics of traditional yoga, which focuses on physical postures, breathing and meditation toward unity with self, to physical worship of Jesus Christ and unity with Him, regardless of denomination.

Lucy Forrester, who has taken

Christian yoga classes for about five years, said that she was initially apprehensive. “I was very skeptical of the practice of yoga, mainly based upon plain ignorance and my own assumptions,” she said.

However, after trying a class, she was hooked.

Dealing with some muscular and flexibility issues, Forrester, who is also a five-year breast cancer survivor, said Holy Yoga helped her heal both emotionally and physically.

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American Guild of Organists is 100

February 3, 2014 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Kathy K. Martin

Organists, accustomed to being heard but not seen, note guild’s centennial


These musicians often go unnoticed as they perform behind the scenes without taking a bow or receiving a standing ovation. However, most Memphis-area church organists and choir directors prefer it this way and play for an audience of one.


“We perform for the glory of God; that’s our mission,” said Jane Scharding Smedley, longtime organist and choral director of St. Peter Catholic Church and historian for the Memphis Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.


722191_t607Most of the guild’s members are organists. Others serve as choir directors, professors and clergy, or they’re just passionate about the instrument. While the guild’s motto is Soli Deo Gloria (“Glory to God alone”), the nondenominational guild also serves to enrich lives through organ and choir music.


The local chapter is celebrating the organization’s centennial this year with concerts that took four years to plan.


The events, beginning last September and continuing with a concert every month until April, feature national and international artists as well as Memphis musicians. The next concert features the Christ Church Chamber Choir, Rhodes College choral ensembles and Dr. Jane Gamble on organ at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Wilson Chapel at Christ United Methodist Church.

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Super Bowl players and prayers

February 3, 2014 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Brown-Burnett

In 2007, one hundred million people saw Hunter Smith have a great day in the Miami rain.

His punts for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2007 Super Bowl pinned the Chicago Bears deep inside their own territory several times, helping the Colts win their first NFL championship in 36 years.

763793_t607“I had a really good day, but I know I didn’t do it by myself,” he said from his home in Indiana. “We were fortunate to be able to perform well on the biggest stage in the world.”

Smith and his fellow Colts, like so many members of so many other athletic teams, had girded themselves with prayer. They held a chapel service the night before the game and prayed together as a team just before kickoff.

“I think all teams have prayer as part of their routine,” Smith said. “I know the Bears did and I’ve never been on a team that didn’t.”

Of course, players such as Smith also prayed during the game.

“I didn’t specifically pray to put a punt inside the 5-yard-line,” he said. “But I remembered ‘Ye have not because ye ask not’, so I asked that I play the best I can play, as if the only person watching the game was the Lord.”

Smith, who retired from professional football in 2010, cites his former Colts’ coach, Tony Dungy, as being the main spiritual influence in his football life. Dungy was a head coach in the NFL for 13 years and coached that Colts’ Super Bowl-winning team. Dungy says spirituality permeates NFL locker rooms.

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Youth football takes God to gridiron

November 17, 2013 in Guest Blog by Kathy K. Martin


“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

—Philippians 4:13

Malcom Rawls describes that as a Bible verse for life and for football.

Rawls, a former college football player, is a coach for the inaugural team of Memphis Gridiron Ministries, the Binghampton Bulldogs. Rawls coaches and mentors fourth-graders, who play for the Bulls. (Third-graders are the Dawgs.)

On a recent Saturday morning at The Hamp football field in Binghamton, Rawls stood on the sidelines to cheer for the team and the child he mentors, Matario Brown, a fourth-grader at Cornerstone Preparatory School.

As he spoke, Matario recovered a fumble. “Good job, Matario,” Rawls yelled.

“I have a love and respect for football and can see these boys building themselves into a team of young Christians.”

Both teams won their final games of their first season; the Bulls finished 2-6, the Dawgs 3-5. Read the rest of this entry →


Memphis Methodists launch first Hispanic church

October 28, 2013 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Brown-Burnett

By Brown Burnett – It took Ronal Rivas a few hours to fly 2,300 miles from his home in El Salvador to Memphis to start a new mission in 1998.

It has taken Rivas 15 years to turn that mission into the first Hispanic United Methodist church in the Memphis region.

Maranata Iglesia Metodista Unida (Maranata United Methodist Church) now meets in the old Jackson Avenue United Methodist Church.

The remaining members of 107-year-old Jackson Avenue congregation voted last summer to give their property to Rivas and his growing Hispanic congregation, which had been meeting inside the building for more than a decade.

“The people who were here when we arrived were good people with open hearts and let us use their facility, but we needed to have our own church building to do what we needed to do,”

said Rivas, who started Maranata with two families, including his own.

Local United Methodist leaders are taking note of Maranata’s success.

In May, Memphis-area Bishop Bill McAlilly joined bishops from around the world for a conference on the U.S.-Mexico border to plan more joint ministries in both countries.

In September, McAlilly took United Methodist leaders from the Memphis and Nashville area to Reynosa, Mexico, for more planning.

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Church’s youth leader also rival’s football star

October 21, 2013 in Guest Blog by Bill-Sorrell

jwWHITEVILLE, Tenn. — Be true to your school or your church’s youth minister?

That was the predicament facing the youth group here at First Baptist Church when their high school, Bolivar Central, played Jackson Christian School on Oct. 11.

Jackson Christian’s star senior running back, Johnny Williams, is also the youth group leader here at First Baptist.

“He’s our youth minister, and you’ve got to support him,” said Stephen New, a Bolivar senior.

“I’ll be glad if we win, but I’ll be happy if Johnny has a good game,” said Cayle Pinner, a youth group member and a Bolivar cheerleader.

As it turned out, 17-year-old Johnny had a great game, leading Jackson Christian to a 54-32 victory. He scored a career-high five touchdowns, rushed for a career-high 247 yards, caught three passes for another 55 yards, and returned two kicks for 18 yards. He also played linebacker on defense, intercepting one pass and recovering a fumble.

“I wanted to do good for them,” Johnny said of his fellow church members after the game. “All have been accepting. It helps me to be more accountable to God because of my responsibility. Everybody has told me that they are proud of me.”

Johnny has been doing good for some time. Jackson Christian’s coach Matt Underwood allows his all-district and All-West Tennessee star to leave practice early on Wednesdays to make the 45-minute drive to Whiteville to lead the youth group meeting. Attendance has doubled since Johnny became the leader.

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Calling parents to responsibility

September 30, 2013 in Guest Blog by Dwight Montgomery

By the time you read this, you probably will have seen at least one article about crime in our city. More than likely, the crime has involved a young person.

As a minister and community member, these stories affect me deeply. They call attention to the growing challenge we face in our community, where teenagers and even those younger get involved in criminal behavior.

I commend Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong, Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham, and Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich for their efforts to help prevent crime. Their officers are constantly leading community meetings and hosting activities to help young people steer away from criminal behavior.

And yet, as we all know, law enforcement agencies can only do so much. I well remember the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” One of the most important resources in the “village” is the faith-based organization.

Because churches are a primary meeting place for community initiatives in many of our neighborhoods, I’m calling on fellow ministers to help me as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Memphis unveil our “Parental Responsibility Plan.”

We recently discussed the idea with 40 local pastors at a luncheon hosted by the Memphis chapter of the SCLC. The pastors endorsed it and have agreed to organize special meetings for parents, guardians and youths in their congregations. Neighbors and other concerned citizens will also be invited to the sessions.

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Christian bookstores find refuge in churches

August 26, 2013 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Kathy K. Martin

By Kathy K. Martin – Lisa Albert used to be the assistant manager of the United Methodist Church’s Cokesbury Bookstore in a shopping center in East Memphis. Now she’s a home-based consultant for the denomination’s Nashville-based retail division.

Cokesbury closed all of its 57 stores this year to focus on online and phone sales, including one in Memphis. Company surveys showed that fewer than 15 percent of customers shopped exclusively in its bookstores.

Like their larger secular counterparts, brick-and-mortar Christian bookstores are giving way to the growth in online sales. Five years ago, the Christian Booksellers Association claimed 2,400 members. Now there are fewer than 1,000. Earlier this year, CBA ended its annual Christian Store Week event.

“If bigger (book) stores such as Borders close, just imagine how hard the business is for a not-for-profit like Cokesbury,” said Albert.

But while Christian bookstores are declining, they aren’t close to disappearing. The Yellow Pages list more than 30 Christian or religion-focused bookstores, many of them small outlets located inside larger churches.

In recent years, church bookstores have become the fastest growing part of Christian retailing.

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Faith-based ministries fill counseling gap

August 20, 2013 in Featured Rotator, Guest Blog by Molly Okeon

By Molly Okeon – While he was serving as an assistant pastor many years ago, Greg Askew went back to school to earn a master’s degree in counseling. Soon, hundreds of churchgoers were seeking his help.

“Once they saw there was a safe place they could actually be (helped), the doors opened for a lot of issues that I didn’t think was going on, especially in the church community,” said Askew, then an assistant pastor at 5,000-member Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ.

“Fighting drug-using issues and other (mental) illness-based problems like bipolar and schizophrenia. A lot of them go to church to try to pacify why they’re hurting mentally, but they don’t want to tell anybody.”

The experience highlighted for Askew the largely hidden need and desire for professional counseling, especially among lower-income people.

“People have always needed counseling, but a lot of times they will go without because it’s not available,” said Askew, now pastor of Jubilee Church of God in Christ in Bartlett, which serves 600 members in the Raleigh-Bartlett area. “They’ll substitute it with doing other things. I saw the need to be formally trained.”

Askew and other faith-based health professionals say the need for more affordable, accessible and professional counseling has grown in recent years. They cite the 1998 closing of Midtown Mental Health Center and the 2006 closing of the Memphis Mental Health Institute at Poplar and Dunlap (it later reopened Downtown on Court Street).

Pastors say the need for mental health counseling is particularly acute.

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Why my generation needs the church

August 19, 2013 in Guest Blog by Sarah Taylor Peck

By Sarah Taylor Peck – I have felt so popular the past few weeks. I am a Millennial. I go to church. I care about the church. I serve the church. And I was trending.

In recent weeks, religious blogs and news outlets and social media sites have exploded with reflections and thoughts about my generation and the church. It all started in late July with an article evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans wrote for CNN’s Belief Blog called “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church.”

Millennials are generally categorized as the generation after Generation X — folks born in the 1980s and 1990s. Evans suggested that the church should focus on being authentic and open, intellectual and holy, but most of all attentive to the desires and trends of the Millennials. She urged pastors to talk to Millennials and to ask us what we want to see in the church and what we are passionate about.

More than 200,000 Facebook users shared her post.

Not everyone agreed with her perspective. Fellow Millennial Brett McCracken responded to Evans on The Washington Post’s On Faith blog. He suggested that Millennials do not have it all figured out, and the church should actually stand up to us and our demanding, self-centered ways. He asked the question: Should churches and pastors really pay attention to a generation that posts ‘selfies’ in the bathroom every single day? (Note: a ‘selfie’ is a picture taken of yourself by stretching out your arm and usually making some sort of pouty, flirty or extremely posed expression).

Thousands of Facebook users shared McCracken’s article, too.

As a Millenial pastor in Memphis, I found both articles well written, thoughtful and equally worthy of consideration.

I believe we Millenials and the church need each other.

The church needs young, fast-paced, energetic leaders who can start the church Twitter page and preach the good news of acceptance, grace and open doors. We can bring new eyes to both church sanctuaries and Christ’s parables that just might enliven our faith exploration in The Church.

The church can give us something we can’t get in our digital world: real touch.

The week my grandmother died, Facebook messages and texts came in by the dozens, but I needed that warm, grandmotherly hug I got from longtime Lindenwood member Dot Williams. I needed to hold the handwritten note I received from two faithful members, Lucy and Ralph Black. They shared honest, wise words of encouragement, and they used more than 140 characters to do it.

In my time of grief and loss, the church touched me. And the church touches so many people in seasons of grief, struggle and hurt.

When a man shot crowds of people in Aurora, Colo., last summer, I needed to turn off the constant commentary and catastrophizing on the news and experience the touch of the quiet, holy space of our prayer room in the church. I longed for the timeless sacred walls to wrap around me and give me a place to weep, to pray and to just be.

Through the Lindenwood prayer room, the church touched me. And the church touches all of us in times of confusion, tragedy and disaster.

When my fellow Millennials and I engage in friendly, yet fierce digital competitions of showcasing our prestigious jobs, or seemingly superhuman fertility, or picture perfect weddings, or beautiful McMansions, I have needed the church to show me images of the kingdom: people old and young, vulnerable, struggling, humble and collaborative.

Inside the church doors, artificial competitions fade away and I get to sing the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” with my fellow seeking, broken, evolving, willing and raw brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how the church touches me.

Millennials might help the church stay relevant and prophetic and global, but for me — one Millennial seeking wholeness in this fragmented world — I love the Church Touch.

The church helps me step outside the instant, distant, technologically clogged world of the Millennials. But more than this, at its best, the church reaches in, past my cheerful Facebook posts and guarded tweets, past my fast-paced facade and ambitious tendencies, and touches my spirit.

Yes, the church needs us Millennials. But I know, deep down, I need the church touch.

Rev. Sarah Taylor Peck is associate minister at Lindenwood Christian Church and a fellow with the New Memphis Institute. Read her blog at