Several weeks ago now, Jenny Smith posed the question, “Why do you stay in the United Methodist Church?” Many others have posited their answers and I’ve decided that it’s time for me to throw mine out there.
1. Wesleyan Theology is the actual reason that I became United Methodist. I actually grew up American Baptist in a congregation that was probably more like a Southern Baptist congregation. Undercurrent themes of “once saved, always saved,” “right” (or righteous) behavior and God’s omniscience permeated the faith of my childhood and adolescence. Unintended though it may have been, the faith of my youth was one that was pretty focused on doing the right things. Sure, I saw love exhibited, but my developing spirit identified this to be a love that was conditional on the right behavior. As I went to college, I chose a small United Methodist college that had an excellent biology program, as that was my intended major. My mom was all for it! She had grown up Methodist and had actually wanted to attend Southwestern when she was my age. The first Sunday that my twin sister and I were away at college, we decided to attend one of the local UM churches with some of our new friends. The second Sunday we were going to go alone to the American Baptist Church (which is right next door to FUMC, even sharing a parking lot) and when we discovered that it had already started, we went instead to FUMC which started 5 minutes later. That Sunday was youth Sunday and I was hooked! I saw that the youth had a ministry within the church and were willing to share of their faith. Before long, the youth pastor had asked me and several other students to start working with the youth group and I have been a regular worshipper at a UM congregation ever since. Fast forward a few years from the fall of 1994 when I started attending a UM church and you’ll find me in seminary, still worshipping in a UM congregation, but not claiming that I was United Methodist despite the fact that I loved the idea of prevenient grace (which was what I identified to be the most distinctively Methodist theology at that time). It was not until I took a class on Wesleyan Theology that I realized that I actually loved the theology of John Wesley! Every sermon I read was my favorite…until I read the next one! His “heart-warming experience” warmed my heart, too, especially when I realized that he could bring together my own understanding of the importance on doctrine, personal piety, and love for others, especially the outcast. In studying the theology of John Wesley, and then later, UM Theology, I realized that I had truly been “home” all along. Though sometimes I’m jealous of someone with a long Methodist heritage, I feel blessed to realized that inasmuch as I feel like the UMC found me, I feel like I found the UMC. I still make that choice today.
2. I feel called to the United Methodist Church. During a time right after college, I was working for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I was on a plane coming from an FCA training event when my seatmate, who was reading the Bible when I settled into my seat, started talking to me about my faith. He asked what church I went to and I told him that while I wasn’t a member, I worshipped at a United Methodist Church. He very loudly said, “You aren’t a lesbian, are you?” Flustered at both his pointed-ness and his decibel level, I stammered, “Uh, no! Just because I’m Methodist doesn’t mean that I’m gay!” You see, once again, we had just been in the news for our tension over homosexuality in the church. I was disheartened to hear that while there was much that the news could have reported that the UMC did that was positive, this man (who I’ve affectionately dubbed Fred Phelps’ cousin in my memory banks) pulled out what is certainly not one of our prouder distinctives—our ongoing struggle about homosexuality in the church. However, during that conversation I found myself defending that while we have our struggles within the UMC, on our best days, we are committed to staying in relationship with one another, despite the fact that our diversity causes us pain. I acknowledged to F.P.’s cousin and still do today, that our diversity is not without its challenges. There are a few things about the UMC that grieve me, but among the worst is when the world to which we are witnessing sees us fractured, exposed, and fighting. Looking back, it was in this conversation close to 10 years ago that I can begin to see God calling me to the UMC. I remember thinking (strangely) that I wanted to help the people of the UMC through these challenging times. I am certain that I did not have an overestimated sense of my own contribution, but somehow I felt in that moment that the challenges of the UMC were my challenges, too. For me, the beginning of being called to the UMC happened in that weird conversation on an airplane.
3. I see great hope in the people called Methodists. Now, I must qualify that remark. I see great hope in potential of the people and I see that the people have great hope. However, I am not blind to the fact that our numbers in the American UMC are diminishing and that sometimes we lose sight of the stated main focus of our church (to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world). Some make take exception to my last statement, but I often think that we’re pretty caught up in issues that are not central to being disciples and making disciples. However, when I read Eric VanMeter’s latest commentary in the UM Reporter, I was reminded that while I’m inspired by the heritage of the UMC, I’m more interested in the legacy that we could leave.
If the best things we’ve inherited, however, become tools to infuse new life into the United Methodist Church, then our heritage will continue to thrive. Our spiritual fathers and mothers passed down to us a concern for the poor, a heart for service, a commitment to holiness and the courage to confront our problems with wisdom and creativity.
Still, the best things about us as the United Methodist Church are not found in our tradition. They’re found in our trajectory. Our life is not tied to the heritage we’ve received, but to the legacy we leave.
Amen, brother! I see the stirrings of people all over the church, people who sometimes challenge us by making us confront our failures and people who, with a theology rooted in grace, remind us that we have much work left to do and we can actually start to make an impact. We do have a wonderful heritage. But I for one think that our heritage must impel us forward into that trajectory that is rooted in Scripture, articulated in our Methodist doctrines. It is a faith that is not intended to stay in the church service on Sunday morning, but is sturdy enough to carry us into the streets, schools, boardrooms, and even the bars. There are many who have this hope and I hope that the many will respond. I may be particularly biased in seeing this hope. I now get to work in campus ministry at my alma mater with college students who exemplify that hope every day (and a few who even want to join us in ministry in the UMC).
I could go on with other reasons why I stay in the UMC such as the connection that I’ve experienced locally, nationally, and globally or the concern for the least, the last and the lost that permeates our work in the world. There are many other “family resemblances” that I could name, but the theology, the call, and the hope are what got me here, and will keep me here. God is at work in the UMC and I’m so glad that I get to be a part of it!
Great post! This makes me want to write a post of my own about it, but I think it would read very similarly to yours. Thanks for sharing and persevering with us!
I grew up in the Methodist Church. My membership is still there, but because of my job (managing a Church of the Brethren camp), I primarily attend Brethren churches these days, and am much more familiar with current Church of the Brethren politics than Methodist Church. I just wanted to say, the Methodist Church is certainly not the only church struggling with the issue of sexual orientation. A few years before I took this job, our district ordained a gay man, causing a small implosion of the district. It’s interesting because nationally a lot of assumptions are made about people from our district. For instance I heard rumors that a possible reason one of our pastors had trouble finding a job outside of the district was because he was from Michigan. The thing that baffles me is, what are the assumptions? That we are shockingly liberal because we ordained him? Or shockingly conservative because we un-ordained him and lost a couple of churches in the mess? It’s a very strange question.Last year our national conference passed a resolution on forbearance. I really like the language in it. Wesley’s theology of grace is something that has a lot of appeal for me, and something that I miss. I should read some more of his writing. Any recommendations?
Your heart, your faith, and your dedication to Christ are an inspiration to me! Thank you for articulating your reasons for being U.M. so beautifully!
Also, I created a syndication feed for you on livejournal. If any of your friends want to follow you there, it is at:http://syndicated.livejournal.com/ashleealley/
Well, you’ve convinced me. I guess I’m going to have to join.
Thanks, Ashlee, for sharing your list. Great stuff, well put.
Thanks for caring. Thanks for writing. Thanks for staying.
Jenny (Greeniezona)–I’m so glad that you chimed in here! Selected Wesley sermons are actually online here: http://gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/. I love The Almost Christian, Free Grace, and Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity. And of course, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. I also don’t know anything about the livejournal thing…I looked around at yours and I’m going to look into it. Thanks for setting up the link.
I feel the same way about this Church and for many of the same reasons (except for the lesbian thing on the plane — I’ve never experienced that one). Methodism can be such a force for good and for Christ if we can just get past all the politics and get back to what we were raised up to do: Proclaim and model God’s grace to the world. Particularly, as you said, the least, the last, and the lost. The Lord bless you for this post.
Hmmm, so I didn’t read your post. Far too long. And I’m procrastinating on my philosophy paper. But I gather from the statements of others that it’s quite a good post. GO YOU!!! ; )
Great stuff. I find that my journey parallels yours in several ways – except that I didn’t find that great UMC until I’d been a pastor in the UMC for 7 years (LOL). But I believe in the UMC and think God has great things in store for us, and I want to be on board when God does it!
Hi, Our family left the church when I was about 11. They had a rock and roll dance at the church for the teens. At the time, I didn't know what to think. My grandpa was a retired Methodist preacher and he was appalled at the emerging leftist ways. Big change from 1920 to now. Wife in Methodist church every Sunday of her life–but never heard the plan of salvation. Never even knew she need a Savior. Too bad.