I was not born into the Methodist or United Methodist family. By my own choice, I joined the United Methodist Church thirty-six years ago in 1986. Like others of my era, I had left another (more fundamentalist faith tradition) when I went away to college.
I thought I would be just fine without the Church. I was misinformed.
Ten years later, at age twenty-eight, I returned to a United Methodist congregation seeking to find that “something” that was missing. I was received with open arms and a loving welcome. When this prodigal returned, I took vows to “uphold the United Methodist Church with my prayers, my presence, my gifts and my service.” I meant those words.
My decision was neither a hasty one nor a light one. I had visited other churches and faith traditions. The United Methodist emphasis on grace combined with the tangible, real-world outreach I witnessed in the United Methodist tradition made the difference. The Church I joined (Mulberry Street in Macon, GA) offered a daily lunch and clothing ministry to the homeless in the downtown area. Faith in action. The United Methodist Church has always represented –to me—this unique blend of practical theology that doesn’t just talk about being Christian but expresses our Christian faith in palpable ways in the world.
In these past thirty-six years, I have been part of eight different congregations or charges. I am what is known as a “second-career pastor.” (This means I worked in the business world for twenty years before entering the ministry.) I have experienced what it means to be a Sunday School teacher, President of the United Methodist Men, Lay Leader, Confirmation instructor, Chairperson of Staff-Parish, Associate Pastor, Pastor and now, District Superintendent. The United Methodist Church played a large role in forming my children into the responsible adults they have become. The Church has undergirded my marriage. The Church has been family to me as I moved from place to place. It has supported me emotionally as I navigated the loss of my parents. This United Methodist Church has supported me in every conceivable way.
A lesson I learned very early on in my business career was this: loyalty matters. If you are hired by someone to do a job, be loyal to that person. They took a chance on you. If you are entrusted to do a job or a task, perform it to the very best of your abilities. Trust is an essential element in human relationships. When it is broken, it is not easily restored.
I intend to remain loyal to the United Methodist Church.
This is a difficult time in our Church. Entire congregations are choosing to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church over issues (ostensibly) related to human sexuality. There is a great deal of fear and anxiety at work. In my opinion, there is a great deal of misinformation and exaggeration being spread about. There is a general posture of “anti-institutionalism” and persons have become distrustful and cynical.
If one allows one’s self to do so, one can easily become disheartened.
For me, a simple antidote for despair can be found in recalling why I am United Methodist in the first place.
Last summer, we were making our way back to West Tennessee from visiting grandchildren at the beach. I was anxious to return to West Tennessee and, at the same time, reluctant. I knew I would be dealing with churches that had made the decision to leave the family. Lane and I were driving through Atlanta and caught an interview on WABE radio –the local Public Radio station.
Dr. Stephen Law is an OB—Gyn in the Atlanta area. He was being interviewed by his daughter, Dr. Karen Law. Stephen (father) was relating how he came to be a physician in the Atlanta area after growing up in poverty in Indonesia. Stephen’s father, a locksmith, was an opium addict and the family struggled. Food and basic necessities of life were in short supply.
The Methodist Church (prior to 1968) encountered a young Stephen Law. The missionaries engaged with him and helped him,
In Stephen’s words,
“ (the) teaching of the Church provided me with a guideline…the ten commandments, the stories of Jesus. They taught me English.”
Stephen would ultimately attend Reinhardt College (a Methodist school in North Georgia) and Emory (another Methodist institution) and become a physician. It was a journey which took him across the world and spanned six decades.
He sums up his experience with the Methodist Christians this way:
“….it was miracle after miracle…and God’s family (the Methodists) helping me all along the way.”
If you’d like to listen to this moving interview, here is the link: The Road To Waleska (wabe.org)
I truly believe loyalty to be a very under-rated virtue in our world today.
The United Methodist Church (and the Methodist Church which preceded it) have long been at work as a force for good in our world. This present time is a time of trial and testing. May we endeavor to be loyal.
The words of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi come to my mind and heart for this present time:
“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” –Ruth 1: 16 & 17