Church, “What time do you start?”


I had missed the Maundy Thursday program because of a school board meeting.

Early on the morning of Good Friday, I untacked the purple cloth that had graced the wooden cross on the front lawn of our church. I replaced it with torn scraps of black cloth and tacked the pieces back into the cross.

Since early in the week, the weather forecasters had everyone stirred up with predictions of severe storms for later on Friday afternoon.

 I tried to focus on the details of getting us ready for Sunday.

We were anticipating the arrival of Easter lilies for the Sanctuary at some point today. 

The warm, unsettled humid air was going to require our HVAC technicians to switch our systems from winter to summer. 

Trinity Hall needed to be put back together after the Maundy Thursday’s program.

 Before the stormy weather showed up, a few items outside needed attention. 

And at some point chairs needed to be staged in the Welcome Center as we hoped for attendance that would overfill the Sanctuary on Sunday. 

As the afternoon arrived, the skies opened up with a heavy rain shower. Severe thunderstorm and tornado watches and warnings were posted by the National Weather Service. Office staff took a number of phone calls from members wondering if we were going to cancel the Good Friday service because of the forecasts. 

We kept an eye on the radar reports and warnings, but somehow the rough weather stayed to the west and southeast of Richmond. I agreed to monitor the weather during the Tenebrae service. But aside from another drenching rain shower just prior to the start of the service, we were lucky.

The dark somberness of Tenebrae on Friday evening was sharply contrasted with a bright just about perfect spring day on Saturday. 

Chores at home on Saturday clearly wore me out, so I was dragging as I headed to Trinity a bit after 5 on Sunday morning. I had lots to do.

Cool, crisp dry air was in place—the moon was high in a clear sky. It looked to be a perfect Easter morning.

Along with the usual building rounds, the cross on the lawn needed to be transformed again. Black cloth removed, chicken wire forms put in place to hold fresh flowers.

Slowly, the behind the scene volunteers arrived. Don Boyd and Ken Hart worked in the Trinity Hall kitchen grilling fish filets for the sunrise service. Lynn Berry made final preps for communion. Associate pastor, Drew Willson, worked on staging for the Sunrise service setup, including a portable fire pit.

Three distinct aromas started to make their presence in the building. The perfume fragrance of the lilies was a sharp contrast to unmistakeable whiff of fish being cooked, and somewhere the wood smoke from the fire pit served as a median between the two. I just hoped the smoke from the fire pit didn’t set off the smoke detectors in the Welcome Center from the propped open doors.

As I was putting the finishing touches to attaching the chicken wire to the cross, a car pulled into the driveway in front of the Welcome Center. The driver put down the window and asked, “What time do you start?” 

He was inquiring about the start time for the Sunrise service. I responded 6:30. The driver must have checked his watch. Because he drove a bit further up the drive and pulled over to park. He decided to stay.

The sky was slowly beginning to show the first hints of blue in the East. I started to run back through my mental checklist, and I was pretty sure I had completed my assignments.

With one final assessment, I headed back home to get something to eat and to change my clothes.

When I arrived at the house, I picked up the  newspaper off the front sidewalk and brought it into the house. The Commander Supreme was up and ready to attend the 8 o’clock service. Our son, his wife, and their almost two year old daughter were going to attend this service with us.

My breakfast was going to be a light one, as we had been invited to brunch at our son’s home later in the morning.

As I was getting ready to sit down to eat, the Commander tossed in my direction Section B of the paper. She pointed out the following headline:  United Methodists edge toward breakup over LGBT policies.

“Nice,” I thought to myself, “couldn’t the editors of the newspaper delayed the printing of this article until Monday?”

I skimmed the article, ate quickly, and hustled upstairs to get changed.

The first hymn we sang on Easter morning was “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” There is a line in the fourth stanza that states three words— “made like him,” meaning you, me, we were made like Jesus. 

I’m thinking if we truly were “made like him,” then why can’t we open our hearts to people like Jesus did? Why are we as Methodists so divided and willing to split up our church over these LGBT policies?  

Author Hampton Sides wrote the book, Hellhound On His Trail, an account about the eventual capturing of James Earl Ray, the assassin, who took the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King had been asked to come to Memphis, Tennessee in support of striking garbage workers. The first march in Memphis in support of the workers had been a disaster. Violence broke out.

In planning a return visit to Memphis to lead another protest, Dr. King was challenged by his staff. They did not think a return to Memphis was a good idea. Dr. King became so agitated with the non-supportive attitude of his staff that he walked out of this critical planning meeting. His staff was shocked. They had never experienced an explosion like this from Dr. King.

But, his abrupt departure worked. His leadership team now felt more obligated to figure out how to move forward, and they did.

Hampton Sides assessment of this pivotal meeting came down to this—“Out of dissension, a consensus had formed.”

I wonder if this current dissension in the United Methodist Church could lead us to reach an all inclusive positive consensus regarding LGBT?

While I like to hope that we could, I sense we are too stubborn— too set in our ways.

This issue has been in front of our church for many years.

I find it discouraging that we can’t find common ground or hear  the voice of reason. Church attendance is in decline. Don’t we realize that shutting our doors to clergy and people from the LGBT communities only hurts our churches?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once stated:  “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”

That statement poses a lot of internal questions for me.

Do I want to leave for my children a Methodist church that is unwilling to welcome and love those who are LGBT?

Does the church’s response mean that I must stop my friendships with family members, neighbors, friends, church members, and peers who are LGBT?

If as the hymn states that I you, me, we, the church are “made like him,” then why can’t I, you, me, we, the church act like him by following his lead— “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)

Perhaps the real question for me should be—“What time do I start?”

When do I stop thinking about myself and start thinking about the future for my children and grandchildren?

Contrary to popular belief, clocks don’t slowly tick. No, clocks spin at a maddening pace.

I hope it’s not too late for me to start to “love my neighbors.”

I think the spinning of time might slow for that journey.

I need to start. Church, how about you?


Poking a tiny bit of fun at the Atlantic Coast Conference

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and his staff are to be commended. 

They have done extraordinary work. 

Expanding the number of teams in the league was pure geographical  genius. 

Growing the conference’s brand was bountifully brilliant.

 Marketing that brand exemplified exceptionally clever creativity.

Recently, two original founding members of the conference, Clemson University and the University of Virginia, won national championships in football and basketball. 

These outcomes probably sent the Commissioner and his staff reeling into a crisis mode. 

Damage control manuals and procedures were immediately opened and implemented. 

Counter measures were deployed to assure non-founding league members that their assets were safe.

The Commissioner was overheard telling his staff the famous words from an honorable North Carolina lawman, Deputy Barney Fife, “We’ve got to nip it, nip it in the bud!” We can’t allow teams from our founding members to earn any more national championships, our non-founding members might bolt— “Nip it in the bud!”

From a grumpy Alamance County native, congratulations founding members, Clemson and Virginia, you keep right on bud nipping!

Bill Pike

Richmond, Virginia

“Don’t freak out, but you’re going the wrong way.”


We were up at 4:00 a.m. Just a few minutes before 5, we had the car loaded, and ready to drive to the Richmond airport.

The predawn was dark, cloudy, and wet as we found our way to I-64. Next, we caught the brief merge to I-95, and then left I-95 for I-64 again.

We were in and out of rain. The temperature was 62. Chicago was the destination. No way that 62 would be waiting for us when we touched down at O’Hare International.

The Commander Supreme had coached me well on the game plan. Drop her off at the terminal with our two bags, then go park the car in the long term lot. Don’t forget my pack back, turn off the car lights, get the keys, and remember where the car is parked.

Somehow, I managed. The parking lot company even gave me a card with the lot letter and parking space number.

The shuttle back to the terminal was painless. I found the Commander Supreme waiting for me. She had successfully checked us in, but she gave me a warning, “Don’t freak out when TSA checks your ticket.”  For some reason, the ticket printed Pike/Pike no Bill or William. 

The Commander wasn’t sure if that hiccup might cause a concern with the TSA personnel. Fortunately, I experienced no hassle. Maybe the TSA Pre-check had helped.

Soon, we were called to start the boarding process. A Bombardier CRJ700 was the plane that would carry us to Chicago. Designed for regional flights, this one was part of American Airlines.

The CRJ700 was not engineered with passenger comfort in mind. 

My guess is a passenger might have more room in a one ounce container of Tic Tacs. 

Storage bins above the seats are compressed like a sandwich on a panini grill. I clunked my head on those low hanging bins as I scrunched my body angling toward the window seat.

Even my slight frame felt crunched and confined in the this small space. And that space shrunk even more when the passenger in front of me reclined his/her seat back into my knees.

The usual safety updates were given. Eventually, we were pushed out of the gate. The trek out to the departure runway took a long time. Let me state that again, the departure out to the runway took a long time, I mean a long time.

Just as we were starting to sprint down the runway, the first light of a gray dawn began to appear. 

We had been told by the pilot before taking off that we would experience some choppiness in the cloudy unsettled air, and this was true.

Gradually, the bumping around improved, and the last leg of the flight was smooth and tension free. Our approach into O’Hare took us out over Lake Michigan, and soon the skyline of the city was in view.

This trip was for a birthday celebration for our grandson, Hudson, who was turning one. No doubt, his first year of life had flown by for his family.

But in truth, time flies by for everyone. 

Time only has its wings clipped when we reach the end of our paths, our roads, our directions, our journeys.

I have always been intrigued with the science of flying, but always thankful when the plane safely lands at our destination.

But as we all know, journeys in life do not always end well. 


Sometimes in life we go in the wrong direction.

This past week, I heard an interview where a person stated, “Remember, life isn’t a straight-line.”

Tomorrow is Sunday, April 14. It is Palm Sunday. Turns out, this will be a Palm Sunday not soon to be forgotten. 

Palm Sunday in Chicago was miserably cold, gray, and wet with what could only be described as a misplaced winter snowstorm.

After attending church at St. James Lutheran, we went to brunch at the Blue Door. 

From our table, we could watch the fury of the famous windy city winds furiously tossing snowflakes. 

When brunch was over, our walk back to the car put us in the direct path of the wind’s temper and blowing snow. We were miserable. Once at the car, our three year old granddaughter, Caroline, commented, “We should have stayed at home!”

We all laughed and agreed. Leave it to a child to have the clear perspective and assessment.

Holy Week is here. I need clear perspective and assessment. 

I must confess, I’m not sure I always understand this walk, this journey, this end that Jesus is approaching. 

Part of me believes, someone should have nudged him.

 Excuse me, Jesus, but I can see the worried look deep in your eyes. I sense you are going in the wrong direction. Maybe you and your father need to talk a bit more about this straight line you are following.

I think God and Jesus did talk, but there was no wavering, no backing down, no adjustment, no compromise. 

Sadly,  the fear of not understanding Jesus fueled this uncivil environment he entered. Mankind’s irrational meanness was not absent. No matter the good in Jesus, his time had come.

In the movie, An Officer and A Gentleman, actor Richard Gere reports to Aviation Officer Candidate School. There he and his fellow recruits encounter an exceptionally tough Marine drill instructor portrayed, by actor, Louis Gossett, Jr. 

The hopeful jet pilot and the drill instructor have a turbulent relationship. 

In one pivotal scene, the drill instructor attempts to berate the candidate into resigning, giving up his chance to become a pilot. 

No matter the harsh verbal approach taken by the drill instructor, the aviation candidate stubbornly holds fast to his straight line. He will not resign.

Finally in exasperation, the drill instructor forces the resignation stating, “That’s it—your out!”

An emotional outburst comes from the aviation recruit, who strongly responds to the drill instructor:  “Don’t you do it, don’t you do it—I got nowhere else to go, I got nowhere else to go!” 

Jesus had nowhere else to go. 

The path, his road, his journey, his final destination was the cross.

Outwardly, Jesus didn’t freak out. 

I sense in his heart, Jesus knew he was going the wrong way.

I would have skipped out.

He didn’t.


Psalm 22:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Brushed Aside


Clearly, there are many tough jobs in our world. 

Here are a few that easily come to mind—police officer, emergency room doctor, port-a-john technician, school bus driver, and parent.

Being a parent might be the toughest one. 

While the passion of creating a child is magical, when that bundle of joy arrives, it is all hands on deck. And believe me, it takes a lot of helpful loving hands to raise a child. 

Just as parents attempt to mold and shape their children, parents are also molded and shaped by those same children.

 All kinds of things impact that molding and shaping. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are in between, and some things happen to parents and their children that just can’t be explained. 

While serving on our local school board, I have discovered there has been one constant in our monthly meetings—reviewing recommendations from the superintendent for student expulsion.

Expulsion for all practical purposes means that a student has come to the end of the line—the ride is over. 

Expulsion molds and shapes lives too. 

Sadly, the lives of some students have been unraveling since the day of their birth. For others, their lives can be torn a part in one split second with an unwise choice.

Years ago, when I served as a high school assistant principal, expulsion often meant that all educational services for a student ceased. Today, school boards and superintendents look to alternative educational opportunities for students who have been recommended for expulsion.

Sometimes after a year, a student will reapply for admission to the school system. During that year with lots of support, plus their own fortitude, a student has learned from the expulsion experience. Good things have taken place. Readmission is granted. That good molding and shaping while it might be rare makes hope a reality.

My old body still allows me to take a run through our neighborhood from time to time. Those runs can be good think time. 

One thing I have noticed on my runs is that I can really see the surface of the road.


In the winter, remaining sand and salt particles from a snow storm gradually start to accumulate on the shoulder of the road. Sometimes pine tags, broken twigs, and litter become a part of that mix as well. Friction from whirring tires, wind, and rain contribute to this brushed aside build up.

That build up makes me think about students in a school who have been brushed aside. Could be any number of  reasons, but the school system in those moments has failed a student. 

When school systems lose track of a student nothing good is going to happen. Eventually, the student will lose track as well. When the student loses track of his/her relevance, the path to making poor choices immediately expands. Once a student makes one lousy choice, too often more lousy choices are on the horizon.

My mind asks me how many students did I brush aside in my career as a public educator? How often did I fail to recognize those students who just never seemed to fit, who never quite figured school out? Where was I in their baggage? Why couldn’t I have been better at helping them figure things out? Why didn’t I intervene on their behalf?

I have no good answer, only excuses. My excuses are not acceptable.


Sometimes I will run across a road surface that is full of cracks, fissures running in all directions. Sooner or later, that road surface will need to be repaired. 

Students, parents, and school systems can be full of cracks too. Those cracks allow for intrusion. Intrusions can wear us down. All of those things out there that are beyond our control begin to take over. When this happens, it is easy to lose hope.

On a daily basis, a student, a parent, and a school system can lose hope.

So, how do we regain hope?

I recently attended the National School Board Association’s annual convention in Philadelphia. My brain is still recovering from information overload.

But, there were some recurring themes.

For example, who is being overlooked in our schools?

How do schools create a sense of belonging for those who are being overlooked?

If I want to reach the brushed aside student, the student full of cracks, the overlooked student, or the student who has no sense of belonging, how do I make those needed repairs. The experts believe the answer comes down to a couple of words—building relationships.

Building relationships isn’t a simple snap of fingers. 

Building relationships takes time. 

In the ticking of those seconds, building a relationship will require endurance, endless energy, carefully chosen words, the capacity to communicate acceptance, and a resilient heart. 

I wonder how many expulsions could have been prevented by not brushing off a student or by not letting a student intrude into the cracks of the system.

Today, I often forget about a role model who didn’t brush off people during his short time on earth. No, Jesus had a skill set that allowed him to build relationships while he moved through a variety of environments. He was deliberate and precise in his teaching moments.

I wonder what it was like to be his parent? I wonder if it was a tough job? I wonder what Joseph and Mary thought about his extraordinary skills? Did they truly understand him?

 I would imagine their hearts were full of questions about their son.

I too have lots of heartfelt questions about Jesus and his work. 

 But, I also have questions about my own heart.

How can I make my heart less likely to brush aside the people I encounter who are overlooked with no sense of belonging?

I need to search my heart and find that answer. 

How about you?

Remember, it’s about building relationships.

Church: “Do You Know What I Mean?”


Friday morning, March 29, the Commander Supreme dropped me off at the Amtrak station on Staples Mill Road. I’m taking train #84 to the National School Board Convention in Philadelphia.

I have flown into Philadelphia before, but only to make a connection for another flight. So, I’m hoping to find a bit of time to see the City of Brotherly Love.

The train was on time, and it was a long walk down to the business class car. We pulled out of Staples Mill headed for the next stop, Ashland, also known as the Center of the Universe.

After Ashland, we kept pushing north with the conductor announcing Fredericksburg as the next dot to connect with along the route.

The dots continued—Quantico, Alexandria, and finally into Washington, DC where the train’s engines are switched from diesel to electric. This routine takes a good 20 minutes, and I know when the transition is complete. The lights and air come back on, and the train is slightly jolted when the electric engine is coupled to the remaining cars.

We slowly move out of the dark, underground parking garage for trains. It is good to see daylight again.

The further north we inch, the less of the encroachment of spring we see. 

Along this route, I have done some reading, dozed off several times, and gazed into the passing landscapes. The only intrusion into my sluggish routine is the business man sitting behind me. 

He is taking important phone calls. His voice isn’t playground loud, but his voice dominates the quietness in the car. But, all of his phone conversations include the following words—“Do you know what I mean?” All I can say is I should have kept a count. 

Every conversation included “Do you know what I mean?” In many of those conversations, that question was used multiple times. I’m sure my count would have found a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the most repetitious use of a question while riding a train from Richmond to Philadelphia.

Quite often along this route, my gazes into the passing landscapes are unexpectedly jolted by an oncoming train. It appears the separation between the two trains is about the length of a ruler. I can feel the force of the speeding energy as the silver streak zips by Train 84, “Do you know what I mean?”

Baltimore, northern Maryland, and Wilmington, Delaware are behind us. The engineer has the train bearing down on the 30th Street station in Philadelphia. 

Somehow the coaching from the Commander Supreme works, and I order without incident a Uber to take me to the hotel. It is a slow ride with lots of traffic. These Uber drivers must have ice water in their veins. If I were driving, I’m sure I would have exploded. I can see the headline—School board member from Virginia jailed for traffic meltdown.

My hotel check-in was painless. I barely walked a half city block and crossed the street into the convention center. This place is huge. Another seamless registration occurs as a symbol on my cell phone was simply read by a scanner.

Slowly, my colleagues arrived. We gathered for a reception and dinner.

I brought along my running gear. I planned to get in an early Saturday morning run.

After checking with the friendly attendant at the front desk about a recommended route, I left just before the beginning of civil twilight.

It didn’t take too many steps to feel a pinch in my heart— as homeless individuals dotted my route. 

Some were stretched out over metal grates that were spewing a cloudy exhaust vapor of warm air. Others were wedged against a building. Still some had carved out covered spaces in the whimsical building designs of an architect. Their bodies had become acclimated to their routines and environments, unlike society, sleep did not desert them.

One of my turns took me to the corner of Arch and Broad streets home of Arch Street United Methodist Church. I made a left turn.

 As I plodded past this side of the church, a rectangular shaped sign caught my eye, printed on the sign were the following words: 

                                                             Arch Street

                                                  United Methodist Church 

                                                A Reconciling Congregation

I made a mental note and resolved to come back for another look.

It was a good run. Back at the hotel, I cleaned up, grabbed some breakfast, met colleagues in the lobby, and we walked over for the opening session.

Nearly 5000 people were packed into the main hall of the convention center. No matter who you were up on the large stage, you were going to be seen as massive monitors were carefully positioned in the hall. 

At a midday break from the convention, I walked over to Arch Street UMC. I took a photo of the sign and walked around the building again. 

 The sun was out. Spring was teasing Philadelphia. 

IMG_0225But the Gothic gray of this aging building could not hide in the warm sunlight. I’ll bet there are stories in each inch of the church’s architecture. Even the homeless had temporary homes in its exterior nooks.

Once the afternoon sessions were complete, we readied ourselves for another reception, this time at the Franklin Institute Science Museum. We were only in one section of this facility, but it was instantly impressive.

The reception was very nice, and when I arrived back at the hotel, I did some research about Arch Street UMC. I was hoping they might have an early morning service. Turns out, the church hosts 8:30 and 11:00 services.

So on Sunday morning, I was up early. I went down to the workout room, and rode a bike for 20 minutes. Then came back to the room, took a shower, dressed, and went to the lobby for breakfast.

IMG_0227After breakfast, I regrouped, and then left the hotel for the short walk to the church. The Philadelphia half marathon was taking place so lots of runners were streaming by the convention center. It was a good morning for a run, cool and overcast.

The 8:30 service was held in the Chapel. A small, but enthusiastic  crowd had gathered. The focus for this service was going to be about mission work the church supports in their neighborhood and Philadelphia. Good music and hospitality marked this simple worship service.

I departed just before the service finished, so I could walk back to the hotel and  gather what I needed for the opening session at the convention center.

The last session I attended on Sunday afternoon focused on equity in school systems for all students. Lots of points were made, but one that stuck with me was creating a “sense of belonging.”

Back in September of 2018, I started teaching a Disciple I Fast Track class. Since January, we have been working on key pieces of the New Testament of the Bible. Last week in class, one of my classmates wondered out loud—“why doesn’t the Methodist church speak out more on important social issues?”

A really good question, and I didn’t have the research expertise to respond.

But, I might guess that the United Methodist Church is still staggering from the most recent decision that was made at the church’s General Conference in February. This decision resulted in a “tightening of its ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.”(NY Times)

Circling back around to equity, this recent decision by the Methodist church, isn’t creating “a sense of belonging.”

In the Sunday morning bulletin at Arch Street UMC, there was an announcement that on Sunday, April 7, LGBTQ members and constituents would be ushering at the 11 a.m. service. Then following the worship service, the LGBTQ group would be going to brunch at a local restaurant. While enjoying their food and fellowship, the topic for conversation is going to be “If The Church Were Christian.”

My goodness what a conversation starter!

Today, I read a scripture from Isaiah 55, verses 5-6, this first line caught my attention: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;”

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have gone astray and gone my own way. But somehow, I have always been pulled back to the church. 

Now, it seems to me that the Methodist church has gone astray and is moving in a direction that doesn’t create “a sense of belonging.”

On the Arch Street UMC website, the following statement appears about its status as a reconciling congregation:

Arch Street United Methodist Church is a community of faith-keeping and faith-seeking people who embrace diversity in our congregation and community, and affirm the dignity and worth of every person as created in the image of God. We celebrate and give thanks for all of the gifts of God among us. Our welcome knows no boundaries, whether of age, racial or ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, economic or marital status, or physical or mental ability. We welcome all to share in the ministry, fellowship, and blessings of full participation as members of Christ’s body.

That statement of a reconciling congregation would seem to be the foundation for creating a “sense of belonging.”

United Methodist Church— “do you know what I mean?”