“Pastor, what’s going to happen to our church?” I have heard that question asked several times over the past months. The short answer is “I don’t know.” I have prayed for our church for the past year plus as it struggled with whom we are as United Methodists in general, and specifically how we deal with the issues of human sexuality, in particular. The actions of the recent Special Session of the General Conference have made this issue even more critical. Noted historian, Jon Meachem has a recent book on our current historical situation which he describes as “a struggle for the soul of our country.” I think much could be said about the struggle within the UMC. It is a struggle for the soul of our church.
I am greatly saddened by the direction this struggle has gone. It is becoming more clear to me that finding agreement on how to resolve the differences we face will be very difficult. This saddens me because I love our church deeply. I am a Methodist by choice. I was raised in the Congregational Church but when I went to Marseilles to teach, I was introduced to the Methodist Church. Led by a dynamic young pastor, the Marseilles Church nurtured me through inspiring, challenging, sermons, engaging mission work and strong and caring fellowship. My faith was nourished in Bible study and working with youth. John Wesley’s blend of intellectual depth and spiritual growth helped me grow in faith. I found his notion that distinguished between fact and opinion very helpful in the process of deciding what is negotiable in our beliefs and what is not. He said “as to all things that do not strike at the center of our faith, we think and let think.” It was in this environment I was nurtured and finally yielded to a call to ordained ministry. This introduction to Methodism by a caring and loving local church shaped my life and my faith.
I have prayed we could work our way through our current struggle. I firmly believe that if we can remain open to God’s Spirit, we will find our way through this current crisis. I see the parallels with the church’s struggle with racism. Our nation fought a great war over slavery. Our Methodist Church divided over this issue. And when the war ended and slavery was abolished, the issue was not solved. African-Americans were still not welcomed into white Methodist Churches. Black Methodist churches were separated into a non-geographical Central Conference. We also saw the beginning of new denominations, the AME, the CME and the AME Zion. But by the grace of God and the persistent witness of many, the current UMC has a significant number of African-American members, bishops and leaders. We all have been richly blessed by their presence. While the struggle for equality is not over, it has moved significantly in a good direction. I believe as we remain open to the work of God’s Spirit, the current issues will find resolution.
In the meantime, I pray that we here in Hebron will be faithful to our Mission Statement, “Creating pathways to serve and love God’s people,” and to our Vision Statement, “We will be God’s inclusive love,” and by doing so, help our UMC be faithful to its credo, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Please keep our UMC and our own HUMC in your prayers.
Grace and peace,