Reverend Mark Marino

The Reverend Mark Marino serves as Director of Connectional Ministries for the Wyoming Annual Conference. Prior to assuming that post in 2006 he served eight years as Superintendent of the Binghamton District. Mark began his ministry in the Wyoming Conference in 1979. He has served Chenango Street, Endwell and Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Churches. He also served as Chaplain at the Children's Home of Wyoming Conference.

Center Lines - August 2009

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 8/4/2009
Topics: Center Lines

 A recent e-mailing from the Alban Institute included a piece adapted from Pathway to Renewal: Practical Steps for Congregations by Daniel P. Smith and Mary K. Sellon (© 2008 by the Alban Institute).  The article’s theme dovetails nicely with our emphases on best spiritual practices and re-thinking how we “do” church.  I am happy to share a shortened version with you as we continue along the journey of our local churches preparing to share their gifts, graces, people and ministries with new conferences in New York and Pennsylvania.  I hope you find it helpful.

Center Lines - June 2009

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 6/17/2009
Topics: Center Lines

Our annual conference concluded its penultimate (next to the last) session on Saturday, June 6.  It was a year of looking back over our 158 year history and looking ahead to the two new conferences of which we will be a part next year.  As always at annual conference there were moments of celebration and joy and there were moments of frustration and angst. 

Celebrations and joys fire us up and excite us about new possibilities.  Frustrations and angsts can leave us despondent about the future, so much so that we might overlook new insights and new learnings.  In these brief thoughts below my focus is an area of our life that we may have passed over too quickly in Scranton or that we did not fully grasp.  The area is finance.  A  fuller understanding of our conference’s finances can turn frustration and angst into- if not celebration and joy- then at least hopeful promise for what lies ahead.

Center Lines - March 2009

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 3/25/2009

What demands my attention?   What needs to be done first?   What must I do now, so I can do what I want later?   To where should I first direct my resources (whether scant or ample)?   How do I live today, so my tomorrow will be fulfilling?   What is of primary importance?   What is of lesser importance?   Priorities, priorities, priorities!   We all have them in our lives, whether or not we want them.

It’s no easier in the Church.   We have mission foci.   We have pathways.   We have critical issues.   We have rules, and here I mean Wesley’s three- not Mt. Sinai’s 10!   Sometimes we have so many “directions” that it’s hard to see, much less follow, “the path.”   We could use a simplified (very simplified) synopsis.

Center Lines - December 2008

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 12/22/2008

When I was an adolescent, I could not wait to grow up.  I yearned to reach the point when life would not be confusing; when decisions would be less complicated; when internal and external conflicts could be resolved easily and peace and contentment would rule.

Sadly, this phase of my adolescence lasted well into young adulthood!  I remember with chagrin the day I realized that this disruption, this confusion, this uncertainty, this chaos- if you will- was the norm.  I needed to accept it.  I needed to learn to live with it.  I needed to learn how to make good use of the options that chaos and uncertainty offered.

Center Lines - October 2008

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 10/29/2008

Caring for boundary issues has become time-consuming. This may seem an odd statement to many, because it may appear that little is happening related to these changes which the Northeast Jursidictional Conference (NEJ) approved in July. However, like an iceberg which displays only one-tenth of its mass above the waterline, a lot has been going on "underneath the surface."

This work will not be complete when the new conferences are inaugurated. In future years, much of it will be ever-changing as we refine it and change our foci to better equip us to better serve our changing communities and environments. Reports at the 2009 annual conference sessions and opportunities for feed-back and discussion will keep us moving in helpful directions and identify additional issues to be addressed.

There is much work to be done to prepare us for the changes coming in 2010. There are good cadres of leaders in New York and in Pennsylvania organizing that work for us and preparing possibilities for us to consider and discuss.

Center Lines - July 2008

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 7/25/2008

Two strands of thought came together as I prepared this month’s reflection.  One was from Bishop Felton May.  Bishop May served our conference in the mid-1980's.  He is now retired.  For the past several months and until September 1, he is the Interim General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM).

At the GBGM’s March 10-13 meeting, Bishop May suggested that “the church needs to think less about charity and more about justice.”  He made the remark as he noted that 2008 is the 40th anniversary of the Kerner Report.  The Kerner Commission was formed in response to social unrest across the United States in the 1960's.  The Commission’s final report included the often-quoted conclusion that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white- separate and unequal.”  In remembering the report’s 40th anniversary Bishop May, lifted up that its information on poverty “reminds us of the unfinished agenda in the United States and the world.”

The other strand of thought came from Binghamton District Superintendent Dave Masland’s July 24 Dave’s Desk, that week’s installment of his e-mailed reflection to pastors and laity across the district.  Dave commented on the resolution passed at General Conference to add a three-word phrase to the end of the covenantal words spoken by persons coming into membership at our churches.  In addition to upholding the United Methodist Church with prayers, presence, gifts and service, the phrase “and my witness” is now added.

Center Lines - June 2008

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 6/25/2008

Once again I was being led, taken somewhere I did not want to go.  A week or so after our and Troy’s annual conference sessions concluded, the Albany Area Cabinet (the four DSs from each conference, I as DCM and my counterpart from Troy) joined Bishop Hassinger and Episcopal Office Administrative Assistant Jane Schweikert for a planning retreat in Boston, Massachusetts. 

The problem (for me, anyway) arose on the second and final evening when “the group” decided to see a performance of the Blue Man Group (BMG).  The BMG is three men dressed in black with their hands and whole heads (including faces) painted a bright, shiny blue.  They perform in mime to energetic music, flashing lights and video.  They jump and gyrate round the stage and behave in generally odd ways.  I knew of the group and its shtick from a television commercial a year or so ago.  I knew them and I knew I did not want to go.

At show’s end all of us, this nay-sayer included, knew we had experienced something special. I will not say that we wanted more, but we were glad for every minute we had with the BMG. In being open to being led where I did not want to go, I was enriched; my horizons were broadened and I experienced something I would have otherwise missed.  My evening would have been lessened.  I would have been poorer because of it.

Center Lines - May 2008

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 5/19/2008

In a recent issue of Christian Century magazine Tom McGrath of Loyola Press offers thoughts on 2 Corinthians 13:11-13. It is a passage in which Paul encourages the Christian community there to "keep the faith" in his absence. He encourages them to keep things together, to live and to work together, to keep peace in their midst. This is not an easy task in the best of circumstances. McGrath believes it was particularly difficult for these early Christians.

At each step of the way, the disciples' interaction with Jesus stretched their limits and pushed their boundaries beyond the comfort zone. . . . Jesus introduced the notion that there was more going on within this God than they had previously suspected."

What brought the message home for me was his next paragraph: "We too live in a time of disorientation and disruption. We gather to worship the Lord, but parts of us are plagued with doubts. We are told to ‘Go' and we want to stay. But there is no idyllic place to return to. We can only be right here, right now." I thought about this notion in the context of where we are in our journey as an annual conference.

Center Lines - April 2008

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 4/15/2008

I am a creature of habit. I like routines and rituals. Predictability allows me to be productive. I know where "my things" will be when I need them. Knowing "what comes next" makes me relaxed and at ease.

Then again, I like change. I become restless after a year or two in one place or in one job. Change keeps me energized. It pushes me to learn new lessons, new ways of being and doing.

I suppose, then, I am a creature of habit who likes change. Well, I have been accused of many things through the years, but consistency has rarely been among them!

I recently concluded that, for me, the only change I really like is change that I initiate, that I control, over which I have meaningful input. When change is imposed upon me or impinges from outside my sphere of influence, then it becomes problematic. Now I balk. I become nervous and unnerved. I become suspicious and guarded.

We well understand that our world is awash with change. It abounds in our denomination. 

Center Lines - February 2008

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 2/15/2008

At the end of January I was with Bishop Hassinger and the Albany Area Cabinet on a week-long Volunteer in Mission (VIM) trip to Dulac, Louisiana. I found that my provincial, northeast naivete had short-changed me again. We, along with several lay leaders and VIM Coordinator Rev. Chuck Gommer, went to spend a week learning, working and serving in this disaster-stricken, poverty-stricken area of our land of plenty.

I found that people do live here. Houma, Vietnamese, Latinos, Filipinos, Cajuns (Acadians, displaced from Canada/New England in the 1700's), some African-American and even Bosnians and Irish. Years ago they came to this land that seemed forsaken. It was land that no one else wanted, at least until the oil and gas were found. All came to Bayou Terrebonne because they were poor, unskilled and of the "wrong" race/culture. They were not wanted elsewhere.

Today they live together in this small pocket of a community largely unaffected by the racism and cultural and ethnic mistrust that affect the rest of their state and our country. They work together to survive and thrive against the ills that nature sets upon them. This is their home.

Who would live in land of swamps and alligators, hurricanes and floods? God’s people. Gods beloved. And where God’s beloved are in need, others of God’s beloved respond in grace and in love. 

Center Lines - December 2007

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 12/21/2007

 At an ecumenical clergy breakfast the week before Christmas, Father Jim Dutko, of the St. Michael's Greek Catholic Church in Binghamton, brought photographed copies of the icon below for each of the dozen or so of us gathered.  Later in the day, he sent an accompanying meditation, which I have included below.
Although I have a few of them, I generally do not turn to religious icons to help me in my devotions or study.  So I was surprised to find that this icon had struck a deep chord within me; one which the meditation richly enhanced.  How often I need to be reminded that Christ came for all, not just for the learned and wise; not just for God's own humble people; but to be that great joy for all the world.  I could think of no better Advent, Christmas and Epiphany message to share with you.  May we place ourselves in the presence of the Lord, in these seasons of joy and blessings, and always.

Center Lines - October 2007

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 10/10/2007

Two events over two consecutive week-ends have been pivotal for me. Each in its own way spoke to my faith, challenged my vocation and simultaneously gave me new possibilities and new directions.

The first event was the Shared Leadership Ministry Table's two-day program at Sky Lake with Walter Brueggemann on the theme A Possibility of Vocation for The Church. Brueggemann is one of the world's pre-eminent Old Testament scholars. 

Brueggemann sees God's interactions with the Israelite people - and by extension us today - as a relationship rooted in generosity and wishing for, yearning for the well-being of all. God, he believes, wants the best for all people all the time. 

Wrestling with the themes of Pharaoh and visions was helpful, because the very next week was the Special Session at which we addressed issues related to annual conference boundary lines and the possibility of living our faith-life together in different ways.

To help frame the discussions that day, the Boundaries Task Force used the imagery of the Israelite people standing at the River Jordan daring to cross over into the Promised Land without knowing what was there; knowing only that God had called them to trust and go. At the Special Session we were encouraged to step forward boldly in the same faith and follow where God is leading us.


Center Lines - September 2007

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 9/5/2007

This past summer, I directed a week of Sky Lake camp: Camp L.E.A.D. (Leadership Education and Development) Alumni Shalom. The young persons' local churches had to recognize them as active and growing leaders, affirm them, and pay for them to attend Camp L.E.A.D. last year These were not just any youth. These were youth in whom local churches saw leadership potential and were willing to invest in that potential.

We, Wyoming Conference United Methodists, may fuss and stew about our weaknesses and short comings. It is often our favorite past time, and one not unique to us. However, my week at camp confirmed my long-felt belief that we do not celebrate our strengths and successes nearly enough. This truth was brought home to me in powerful ways.

What gifts we have in our midst right now! What a future we have! God deserves our very best. In terms of our youth and our young people, we are indeed offering it!

Center Lines - August 2007

By: Reverend Mark Marino on 8/1/2007
Some years ago I read Robert M. Pirsig's book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As Pirsig noted at the time, it had little to do with either zen or motorcycle maintenance. Though never a motorcycle rider myself, I found it to be an interesting read.

I remembered that book when for Father's Day this year Suzette gave me a copy of the book Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo.  I am not a student of zen, and so was especially intrigued at this point much later in life to come across other title sporting "zen."  Unlike Pirsig's book, however, this one was about zen and it was about guitar playing.  Suzette selected it, I think, in the (now obviously vain) hope that it would improve my guitar playing.  I began right away to read it diligently and could not wait to demonstrate how much more capable a guitarist I had become.

Alas, simply "wanting to" play the guitar better or just reading a book about better guitar playing, does not make it so.  Apparently what I used to tell my children was true: proficiency requires practice, practice, and more practice.  It requires trying and failing, and trying again, over and over and over.

I have come to see the same dynamic at work with discipleship and congregational development.  Neither congregations nor disciples live in vacuums.  Each lives, moves and has its being in a particular, unique environment.