The view from the balcony - Pratt First United Methodist Church
(Photo from the church's Facebook page)
I spent a lot of my teen Sundays in the balcony at Pratt First United Methodist Church. When I was a sophomore in high school, our family transferred from the tiny Byers UMC just 3 1/2 miles from our farm home to the "big city" church in Pratt, 15 minutes away.
Even as a child, I wasn't a big fan of change. I don't specifically remember the first Sunday, as my sister Lisa and I walked into the high school Sunday School room just off the balcony. It's likely I trudged in with a fair amount of trepidation and worry, along with a nervous smile. Most of the other kids in the class went to Pratt to school. We were students at Skyline, a rural consolidation just west of Pratt. So it was a sea of unfamiliar faces. But in that room was the man who would become our Sunday School teacher, Carter Barker.
He was (is) a farmer and used equipment salesman. In some ways, with his barrel chest and no-nonsense voice, he reminded me of my Grandpa Neelly. Each week, he used the Guideposts magazine and taught us some real-life lesson about overcoming adversity, building character and bolstering faith in the real world.
After Sunday School, our family sat on the right-hand side of the balcony during the worship service. Carter and his wife, Marj, did, too. And Carter became as much a part of the church experience for me as singing "How Great Thou Art" for the hundredth time or repeating The Lord's Prayer.
This winter, I saved an email devotional that arrived one morning from the Great Plains UMC Conference. The devotional, written by Jeanie Leeper, Prairie Rivers District Director of Lay Servant Ministries, talked about recalling the "balcony people" in your life and writing them a note of thanks.
"Balcony people" are described as those who cheer you on and help you find your potential and calling in Christ. These people may see things in us that we aren't able to see ourselves.
Parents are designed to be "balcony people," and I was fortunate to have parents and grandparents who did that for me. But having someone who doesn't "have to" care about you is just a little bit different. Carter came to ballgames and 4-H fairs. He cared about me - even when he didn't have to.
|The west balcony at Stafford UMC is behind the rail in this photo.That's where Melvin & Marie used to sit.|
Carter was definitely one of my "balcony people" - both literally and figuratively. I had other cheerleaders - voice teachers Mrs. Cunningham and Mrs. Bolan, science teacher Larry Sittner, 4-H agent Jean Clarkson and a myriad of others who made a difference in my life.
|From the balcony at Stafford UMC|
|The view from Melvin & Marie's angle in the balcony|
I hope I am. I try to be.
“The heart of leader development is having a vision beyond what you actually see when you look at someone and believing in someone else even more than he believes in himself. It is to see beyond the actual to the potential, not just seeing who a person is but who she can become.”
Lay Servant Ministry handbook, United Methodist Church
Jill & Eric's wedding - Taken from the south balcony - August 2009.
They had lots of "balcony people" at their ceremony.
This week, I'm our church's laity representative at the Great Plains UMC annual conference. It begins today in Topeka. United Methodist churches from all over Kansas and Nebraska will send their ministers and lay persons to represent them.
While at the conference, we'll be doing the business of the church and hearing about its ministries. We'll also be electing our delegates to the 2020 General Conference - a gathering of the global United Methodist Church set for next year in Minnesota. As I've studied the applications of those lay persons who want to represent the Great Plains, I've been circling phrases and trying to come up with a cross-section of people who will best serve our conference on an even bigger stage. For my vote, I've tried to pick people from different regions, from rural and urban churches, men and women, the young and the not-so-young.
As a lay member of annual conference, I can't vote on the clergy candidates, but I've read through a number of their applications, too. Some of them seem ready to "give up" on the UMC and divide into two or more branches. I hope that mindset does not win out.
I want delegates who'll be our "balcony people." But even more, I want them to be "balcony people" for the future of the United Methodist Church, to find a way to work together, to hear each other in disagreement and find a way for the church to have a renaissance. May the Great Plains find those people during this time of Annual Conference, May 29 through June 1.