March-April 2008: Linda Mercadante, Ph.D. Professor of Theology, B. Robert Straker Chair, The Methodist Theological School in Ohio

Linda Mercadante, Ph.D.
Linda Mercadante, Ph.D.

Dr. Mercadante has a passion to explore the intersection of belief and culture. Ever since earning her Ph.D. from Princeton and becoming ordained [Presbyterian Church USA], she has been helping persons discern the meaning and vocation for their lives. Key areas of specialization include addiction recovery, victimization, gender issues, immigration, and popular culture. The author of Victims & Sinners: Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, she explores how addiction has become an umbrella term to cover many aspects of human dysfunction.

Linda has won numerous grants for her research, and has published four books and over 60 articles. She lectures nationally and internationally and, as a former journalist, has won awards for her writing. Her spiritual narrative: Bloomfield Avenue: A Jewish-Catholic Jersey Girl’s Spiritual Journey was recently published by Rowman & Littlefield. Her other books include: Gender, Doctrine, and God: The Shakers and Contemporary Theology (Abingdon, 1990) and From Hierarchy to Equality (GMH Books, 1978).

Linda has served as Visiting Scholar in Media and Theology at The University of Edinburgh (Scotland); a consultant for the federal government on addiction and spirituality; and is active in The American Academy of Religion. She is a member of The Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton and of The Ecumenical Institute, St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN.

Linda uses spiritual memoir writing to help persons discern the meaning in their lives.  The guiding principle of her work is that human wholeness is only found one step at a time but grace, humor, meaning, and hope can be discerned amidst life’s inevitable tragedies. In addition to writing workshops, she uses film, television and other narrative forms to tap into the latent spiritual themes embedded in our culture.

Another of Linda’s passions is her sabbatical project to study the group of people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.”  She is probing why we so often hear people describe themselves this way in our culture today, and is exploring the theological issues, questions and concerns that characterize this group.

Linda lives in Worthington, Ohio with her husband, Joseph Mas, and son David, and is the founder of Healthy Beliefs – Healthy Spirit Seminars. Visit her website at

June 2008: Al Staggs, Performing Artist, Santa Fe, NM

Al Staggs
Al Staggs

Al Staggs discovered his performing abilities when he began to impersonate famous comedians for his high school classmates and teachers. Following a stint in the U.S. Army as a draftee he turned his attention to obtaining the necessary education for service as a minister.  

During the period of his post graduate studies he was increasingly drawn to those individuals in recent history who had devoted their lives to justice and peace concerns. After two decades of working as a parish minister he came to terms with the fact that his real passions related to performing and to working for peace and justice.  

Twenty years ago Al combined those two passions by writing and performing a one-person play that takes his audience into the prison cell of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A few years later he took the step of leaving the pastoral ministry and began a career as a full-time performing artist, adding characterizations of Clarence Jordan, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Thomas Merton and Walter Rauschenbusch to his repertoire of programs. He finds great satisfaction in bringing these notable figures to life and sharing their relevant messages with audiences throughout the world.

Al Staggs holds a B.A. from Hardin-Simmons University, an M.R.E. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Th.M. from Harvard Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He also completed a year internship in Clinical Pastoral Education at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.  In the spring of 1983 he was honored as a Charles E. Merrill Fellow at Harvard with major emphasis in Applied Theology under the direction of Harvey Cox.  Al served as a minister and hospital chaplain prior to becoming a full-time performing artist.

For more more information, please see his website.

September 22–October 7: The Rev. Ginger Howl and Wes Howl

Rev. Ginger Howl and Wes Howl
Rev. Ginger Howl and Wes Howl

If you were at FUMC in September of 2005, you’ll fondly remember Ginger and Wes Howl, who led us in worship as we debuted and dedicated our new hymnal supplements, The Faith We Sing.

Ginger, a retired ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, worked in Oklahoma churches for 40 years in the areas of music and worship. She and Rev. Claire met in 1992, as they began their many years of work together on Academy for Spiritual Formation leadership teams. Ginger continues to be a key leader in worship for the Academy. She has been the worship/music team member for four Two-Year Academies and eight Five-Day Academies. In addition, she is an adjunct leader with the Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation.

Wes recently retired after 47 years as a church organist and accompanist. He also spent 34 years as a high school guidance counselor, and taught vocal music. Wes enjoys attending Academies with Ginger and playing for the 14 worship services each week. Ginger and Wes have a daughter who lives in Trinidad, CO, and a son who lives with his wife and two sons in Weatherford, OK.

Ginger’s passions for worship, music and spiritual formation have taken her to a variety of places. She attended a labyrinth workshop at Grace Cathedral with Lauren Artress, the American labyrinth guru. Following this training, she studied the labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France. Here she learned about sacred geometry and the history of labyrinths. Her church in Stillwater was one of the first in Oklahoma to have a labyrinth. She has led many presentations and led walks in churches, retreat centers, campgrounds and public parks around Oklahoma.

Ginger’s interest in Celtic spirituality led her to attend two retreats in the U.S. with Philip Newell, the Scottish pastor and Celtic scholar. She also experienced a retreat in the Abbey on the Isle of Iona in Scotland. Ginger expanded her expertise through a conference on world music at Southern Methodist University, in which leaders from various countries taught their songs. She also spent a week with Thomas Tangaraj, a pastor and theologian from India, who writes Psalm responses and Christian chants in the Indian tradition. Ginger learned about the African genre from workshops at Perkins School of Theology with Michael Hawn whose main interest is Christian world music. After participating in the Taizé Community in France, Ginger began a monthly Taizé service for the community at her church in Stillwater. Taizé chants are made up of a few words repeated over and over that become a meditative prayer, which enable one to encounter the mystery of God.

November 21-December 7, 2008: Sandra Smith, M.Div.

Sandra Smith, M.Div.
Sandra Smith, M.Div.

Sandra Smith, M.Div., is a graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University.  She is the co-founder and former director of Holy Ground, a retreat ministry in Asheville, North Carolina, which she created in 1994.  During her 14 years with Holy Ground Sandra organized and led workshops, retreats, and classes that engaged people in faith and justice conversations and in spiritual practices while creating space for silence, stillness, and beauty.  She says, “My ministry has been one to bless the questions, to explore the ‘trances’ we live in, and to move toward living fully into the one God created us to be.

Sandra is a certified instructor of the Enneagram, a centuries-old psychological system with roots in sacred tradition.  It can be an invaluable guide in one’s journey toward self-understanding and self-development.  Since 2002 Sandra has combined her theological background with the Enneagram Personality System to guide people in their personal, professional and spiritual growth.  Sandra herself has found holy ground at the intersection of personality and spirituality.  Out of this experience, one of her passions is working one-on-one with individuals as an Enneagram consultant and spiritual companion.  The FUMC staff is blessed to have Sandra as their mentor in learning more about the Enneagram.

Sandra makes her home in Asheville, NC, where she lives simply and enjoys the company of her two cats. She finds hiking, gardening, and connecting with the land to be good medicine.  She is often found in the forest or on the mountain top, her places of worship and sanctuary.

December 2008-January 2009: Dr. Joerg Rieger

Dr. Joerg Rieger
Dr. Joerg Rieger

Joerg Rieger, Professor of Systematic Theology at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, will be our Theologian in Residence from mid- Dec. to mid-Jan. He has written extensively about the intersection of Christian theology with economics, globalization, politics, and poverty.

Dr. Rieger, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and a member of the Perkins faculty since 1994, teaches historical and contemporary theologies, liberation theologies, theology and economics, Methodist theology, and theology and religion in its social context, among other subjects. He holds a Ph.D. from Duke University and a Th.M. from Duke Divinity School. He earned an M.Div. Degree at Theologisches Seminar der Evangelisch-methodistischen Kirche, Reutlingen, Germany.

Joerg has written a number of books and a host of articles. His most recent book, Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, received the Godbey Authors’ Award for the best book published by a Southern Methodist University faculty member and is being translated into various languages. This next fall in Dallas he will be joining with John Dominic Crossan to lead an event dealing with Christianity and the American Empire.

On Sunday, December 21, you’ll have the opportunity to meet this well known theologian in the Adult Forum at 9:00 am. Keith Thompson will be in dialogue with him about his fascinating theological journey. He will also be the preacher that day, the 4th Sunday in Advent, dealing with Luke’s famous account of Mary’s Magnificat.

On Friday and Saturday, January 9 and 10, Dr. Rieger will give a lecture and lead an workshop on his Christ and Empire book. This will be advertised throughout the entire Denver metro area, and we expect a good audience.

Linda Green, United Methodist News Service news writer, reports from Dr. Rieger’s recent lecture with higher education leaders in The United Methodist Church, “A big part of meeting the global challenge is to investigate the Bible in a ‘historical self-critical mode’ to see what messages it offers and what responses it calls for from the church in a changing world. The interpretation needs more ‘bite’ and can no longer be approached as ‘if we were living in isolation, in the ivory towers of the academy or the ivory towers of the church.’”

“I also work with Dr. Rieger in events throughout the city with progressive laity from many different denominations. Dr. Rieger is a popular panelist and lecturer on social justice symposiums with the laity. I have also observed him skillfully lead open discussions with various perspectives while always bringing a new lens by which to distill information.” Isabel N. Docampo, M. Div., D. Min., Perkins School of Theology

“…Dr. Rieger has a deep passion for bringing theological thinking to bear on the life and ministry of the church in ways that will provoke authentic and lasting renewal. His single-minded challenge to a radical openness to God’s transforming presence in places and persons we least expect offers United Methodists a powerful opportunity to retrieve often-suppressed and largely forgotten dimensions of our heritage for prophetic ministry today.” Hendrik R. Pieterse, D.Phil., General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church

February 2009: David Harris, BSE, MM, DMA

David Harris, BSE, MM, DMA
David Harris, BSE, MM, DMA

David Harris, TIR scholar/artist, will lead worship through the pages of Southern American Hymnody.  In the early 19th century, two men, B.J. White and E.J. King, set about to create two hymnals, The Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony, each with the dual purpose of printing hymns (a new venture in the south) and teaching music.   Both song books begin with a theoretical treatise on how to read music based upon a four-note system of shapes (the major scale with shapes repeated starting on the fourth scale degree: Fa- triangle, Sol-circle, La-square, Fa, Sol, La, Me- diamond, Fa).  The system is so simple that people could learn to read music in a few days, even if they couldn’t read words.  Many of the hymns, meanwhile, became staples in the Protestant repertoire, and even today still find their way into hymnals.

In the spirit of this Southern Hymnody tradition, David will bring FUMC the gift of shaped-note music education, lead us in some of these great hymns, and reflect on the theology of early American writers.  For those especially interested, he will lead a rehearsal prior to the service (details TBD) where any singers, even non-choir members, can become more experienced with the process. David Harris (b. 1974), BSE, MM, DMA, has worked with choral and instrumental groups for more than 15 years. He is artistic director, a founding member, soloist and composer for Jubilate! Sacred Singers.  Over the past six years as composer and arranger for Jubilate, David has performed and recorded a number of pieces.  Their most recent recording “I Want To Be Ready:  Jubilate Sings For New York” was recorded live in Carnegie Hall.   Recent performances of his compositions include “Ascendit Deus,” performed at the 2008 A Cappella Choral Festival, his 2007 chamber opera, “who are you, little i” and two pieces commissioned by the Arvada Symphony Orchestra.  Upcoming performances include a May 23 concert entitled “Perish, the Thought” featuring his cantata The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew,” the choral set “The Frail Stag” and his first string quartet.  For this concert he will work with the Rocky Mountain Chamber Singers and strings from the Boulder Philharmonic.   In addition to performing every week with Jubilate, David often serves as a clinician and fulfills composition commissions. He is a current member of the American Composers Forum and American Music Center.

March 2009: Marcia McFee, PhD

Marcia McFee, PhD
Marcia McFee, PhD

Marcia McFee, Ph.D. was guest preacher for Reconciling Ministries Anniversary, March 15. Her sermon, “On the Edge,” uses dramatic interpretation to talk about taking a leap of faith into the unknown, and celebrates the power of inclusive community in taking that leap. Dr. McFee is an author, worship designer and leader, professor, preacher and artist. Her engaging and interactive style has been called refreshing, inspiring and unforgettable. Marcia combines her background and experience in professional companies of music, theater and dance with a variety of worship and preaching styles in order to bring a fresh experience of the Gospel to each worship setting. Marcia has provided worship design and leadership at numerous national and regional gatherings.

Marcia’s passion for helping the church to worship God fully is especially directed toward the education of local congregations. She travels extensively in order to teach regional workshops that are accessible to congregational leaders and worship teams. Additionally, Marcia has begun a program of continuing education events in her home town of Lake Tahoe and an on-line subscription for seasonal worship design help. In addition to her experience with local church worship, Marcia specializes in designing and leading conference worship. Over the last 18 years, she has coordinated worship for countless regional and agency conferences. Most recently, she designed and led 22 worship services over a 10-day period for the international quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Dr. McFee received a Master of Theological Studies degree at Saint Paul School of Theology with a Concentration in Preaching and Worship, where she recently received the Outstanding Graduate

Award from the Alumni Association. She earned a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies at the Graduate Theological Union with an allied field of Ethics. She has been a guest lecturer and adjunct faculty at nine seminaries and served as the North Texas Conference (UMC) Consultant on Worship & the Arts.

May 2009: Al Staggs (See above for Bio)


Dialogue follows Presentation; Child Care Provided

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk and the prolific author of more than seventy books. The subject matter of his works included spirituality, social criticism, peace and justice. His first book, entitled “The Seven Storey Mountain,” became an international bestseller in 1948.

“Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” is the title of one of Merton’s most remarkable works. In this text he insightfully confronts some of the dominant American social issues of the 1960’s, such as the Vietnam War, militarism and racism. Merton’s words, published more than forty years ago, ring with amazing and particular relevance to the religious, political and economic challenges of the 21st Century. In the Preface to “Conjectures” Merton confesses, “I do not have clear answers to current questions. I do have questions, and, as a matter of fact, I think a man is known better by his questions than by his answers…I am not in the market for the ready-made and wholesale answers so easily volunteered by the public and I question nothing so much as the viability of public and popular answers…”

Thomas Merton’s life and writings remind us that spirituality is never exclusively private. In his view one’s personal spiritual life must also necessarily result in concern for the lives and welfare of others and extend to persons of all religions and nations.

Al’s performance of “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” highlights Merton’s dedication to interfaith dialogue and understanding as he speaks of the positive contributions of other faith traditions

Walter Rauschenbusch and the Kingdom of God

Walter Rauschenbusch was a theologian and Baptist minister who was a central figure in the Social Gospel movement in the U.S. during the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th century. A central element of Rauschenbusch’s theology was the concept of the Kingdom of God. He explained that the Kingdom of God “is not a matter of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven.”

Rauschenbusch applied the teachings of Jesus and the Hebrew Prophets to the crying social issues of his day. He saw child labor and economic disparity as terrible social ills which he felt should be addressed by the church. Rauschenbusch wrote that “whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus.”

His message concerning the Kingdom of God is particularly relevant to the church’s challenges for the twenty-first century.  To what extent should the church address economic need?  What is the nature of the church’s vocation in respect to systemic economic injustice?  What is the theological basis for the church’s mission to the poor and needy of our society?  These are the kinds of questions Rauschenbusch confronted at the turn of the century.   His conclusions have profound significance for contemporary Christianity.

Rauschenbusch’s work influenced Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu.

June 2009: Linda Mercandante (See above for bio)

Many people today claim to be “spiritual but not religious.”  They avoid dogmatism, shun institutionalism, practice a variety of spiritualities and draw from many wells.  How did this movement start and what can we learn from it?  Most important, how can we serve the needs of this growing group of determined seekers?

Linda Mercadante returned to enrich FUMC and our community with even more insights into those people who profess to be “Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR).”  She brought us updated data from her extensive research, and presented her workshop:

Finding and Serving the “Spiritual But Not Religious

Who Are the SBNRs? There is a definite decline in religious participation in North America that should concern all of us.  What are the roots of this decline?  Why are more people calling themselves “spiritual but not religious?”  Is there a difference between religion and spirituality? Dr. Mercadante will help us get a better sense of the spiritual landscape in 21st century North America.

1.  Stories of the SBNRs There is a dramatic increase in persons calling themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Among young people, the percentage may be as high as 50%.  Who are these people and what are their stories?

2.  Serving the SBNRs Although religious difference can lead to tension, there is also an amazing amount of good that religions have always offered to persons and society.  Dr. Mercadante will help us realize the kind of “spiritual capital” that organized religion produces.  Given these benefits, what can religious groups do to help the “SBNRs” with their very real spiritual longings and needs?  How can we help our young people realize the importance of religion?

July-August 2009: Dr. Eugene Lowry

Rev. Dr. Eugene L. Lowry
Rev. Dr. Eugene L. Lowry

The Rev. Dr. Eugene L. Lowry served as professor of preaching for over 30 years at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, MO.  Now that he is no longer actively serving as the William K. McElvaney Professor of Preaching, his travels as preacher, teacher and pianist have broadened in scope.

Ordained a United Methodist minister, Dr. Lowry’s academic preparation includes four degrees, culminating with a doctorate in the philosophy of education from the University of Kansas.

He was Senior Scholar in Residence at Drew University: The Theological School in fall 2003 and fall 2004.  In the spring of 1999 he was a guest preacher at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Lowry has been featured in the Great Preachers video series on the Odyssey Television Channel.  He has been invited to deliver the Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale Divinity School in October of 2009.

Through the years he has preached in hundreds of churches, conferences, and regional events in over 20 denominations as well as lecturing in over 40 graduate theological seminaries across North America.

His writings include six books on narrative preaching and over twenty journal articles and book chapters on preaching, worship, Biblical study, educational philosophy and creativity.  His keyboard lecture/concerts relating jazz and Christianity have resulted in four recordings in the blues/jazz mode.

Listen to a sampling of Gene’s piano work on his website:

March 2010: The Rev. Ermalou Roller

Rev. Ermalou Roller
Rev. Ermalou Roller

The Rev. Ermalou Roller was the guest preacher for our Reconciling Ministries Anniversary Sunday, March 7.   She is a retired pastor in the Northern Illinois Conference where she served United Methodist churches for 25 years.   Ermalou graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois.  Being an early feminist, she challenged racial, gender and sexual orientation stereotypes as a pastor, superintendent and dean of the cabinet.   She is the author of On Thundering Wings: Homosexuality, Love and the Church on Trial (coming in May), which connects directly to the flash point currently moving our nation and churches toward more progressive attitudes and laws regarding the LGBT community.  Relevant parts of her history as a former wife of a closeted gay man, the mother of a gay son, pastor and D.S. of pastors are interwoven into each chapter.  These stories reveal the collateral damage inflicted upon families by anti-LGBT attitudes.  She knows the price as well as the joy of stepping out of culturally imposed boxes.

May 2010: The Rev. John Churcher

Rev. John Churcher
Rev. John Churcher

The Rev. John Churcher preached on some of the main points of his new book, Setting Jesus Free: Lessons From Luke, and lead the Adult Forum at 9:00 am helping us better understand the difference between British Methodism and United Methodism as well as progressive Christian social justice movements the U.K. John led a workshop, “A Fresh Look at the Bible” divided into three sessions: (1) Rescuing the Bible From the Past So That It May Have a Future, (2) Is the Bible God’s Word or a Human Construct? and (3) A Fresh Look at the New Testament.

John is currently the chair of the Progressive Christianity Network-Britain and has recently launched an internet-based ministry, “Permission To Speak” (

uk). His theological journey has taken him from evangelical and pentecostal forms of Christianity to his present commitment to progressive Christianity informed by such theologians and biblical

scholars as Karen Armstrong, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan and Elaine Pagels.

John describes his leadership style as “encouraging and enabling others [a] to develop their own faith stories that make sense for them in this post-modern age; [b] to discover and develop the

resources needed for our work and witness in the world; [c] to seek justice and peace for all God’s people; [d] to protect Creation.”

John’s new book, Setting Jesus Free: Lessons From Luke (2009) is available from

July 2010: Rev. Dr. Isobel Decampo

Rev. Dr. Isobel Decampo
Rev. Dr. Isobel Decampo

The Rev. Dr. Decampo is Associate Professor of Supervised Ministry at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. She joins us as Theologian in Residence from July 18th until early August. She will be leading the Adult Forum on July 25 and August 1 at 9 am on interfaith issues.

Education: D.Min., Perkins School of Theology, 2003; M.Div., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, 1982; B.A., Louisiana College, 1979.

Teaching Specialties: Peace/social justice ministries; cross-cultural and interfaith communication; urban ministry; church and community studies; Latino/a ministry.

Selected Publications: “The Power of Remembrance: Helping Older Adults Share the Richness of Their Experience.” Designs for Teacher/Leader Education series of the Presbyterian Church (USA); “Quantum Leap: Youths and Senior Adults” and “A Church Reminiscence Group,” with Elaine Tiller. Can We Uplift the Spirit as the Body Slows Down? National Interfaith Coalition on Aging, 1993.

Professional Distinctions: Ordained Baptist minister (1985); founder/member, Christian and Muslin Women’s Dialogue; member, National Congregational Studies Seminar, Hartford Institute for Religious Research, Hartford Seminary; past board member, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (6 years); current board member, Dallas Peace Center; advisory board member, Wilkinson Community Center; advisor, Proyecto Esperanza (immigrant advocacy organization).