The Blog of What's Happening at Sycamore UMC
By Martha Stokes
Director of Inclusivity and Lay Leadership Excellence
I grew up United Methodist. Actually, I was baptized Methodist and confirmed United Methodist, as a result of the merger of 1968. But I must admit that it hasn’t been easy to stay United Methodist or connected to the church at all.
In my 52 years, I’ve experienced my share of unChristian-like behavior in church, when we’ve quarreled over ministries (and ministers); when feelings have been hurt and hearts damaged; when we have forgotten that we – the people – are the church, not a building or a part of a particular group; and when we have failed to live as the people we claim to be – the people Jesus tried so hard to teach us to be.
I’ve experienced the hurt and anger of being told as a young woman, eager to serve in the church, that I shouldn’t enter the ordained ministry because of my gender. I’ve questioned how we treat one another, how we forgive each other, and how we continue to grow as disciples of Jesus when all this stuff is happening. The conclusion I’ve come to is that I wouldn’t be anything other than a United Methodist Christian. And here are the main reasons why….
I want to be United Methodist because we aren’t all expected to think alike – and that’s okay. One of John Wesley’s quotes that I love comes from a letter he wrote in 1749 to a Roman Catholic. Wesley stated: “If we cannot as yet think alike in all things, at least we may love alike.” We have our basic affirmations, our foundational beliefs, which we share in common with all Christian communities, but with that comes a broad-mindedness to allow for dissenting opinions and differing values – with the focus of always striving to live as Jesus modeled for us.
My greatest desire for our church is that we truly live out more of this understanding in our conferencing, worship, and living. We can’t come to understand each other unless we have built relationships that allow us to talk openly, feel safe, and be willing to set our own feelings aside to hear God’s call for ourselves and our church. Only when relationships are strong, can God’s vision emerge.
Another thing that keeps me United Methodist is our understanding of grace. God’s grace has been with me from my first moment. No person can give it to me or take it away. Only God…and God did all that work through Jesus on my behalf well before I came into this world. A loving God cares for me no matter how undeserving I may be. Now, my job is to live like I believe it. Living in God’s grace requires that I show the unconditional love of God and model the teachings of Jesus in all that I do and say. Tough job with much responsibility!
I choose to be United Methodist because we believe that we have a responsibility to live out our faith in the world. Our Wesleyan heritage continues to call us to be faithful disciples in the realities of today’s society. We are challenged to show compassion to all people: from the poorest of the poor, to the amazingly wealthy; from those whose skin color or lifestyle or abilities are like ours, to those who are as far opposite as possible. It would be so much easier to simply deal with those who are like us, but that is not the calling of the Methodist tradition.
As we pray, study the Scriptures, worship, and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human need and work for justice in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love our neighbors. Our mission together is to use that love for our all our neighbors to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.