This has been a challenging few months. The pain and uncertainty in our church is more than words can adequately describe. Everywhere I turn in our churches some people are saying that they have had enough and are leaving. Others are vowing to protest and resist until something changes. This year’s annual conference was a reflection of the divergent feelings present. Some people wanted to spend time focusing on creating a new future, while others wanted to send a clear message in response to General Conference 2019. The result felt chaotic to me. How do you truly walk into a new future when one foot is tied to something in the past?
Not too long ago I heard a man talk about the great length he was committed to going to support a friend of his. I couldn’t help but think about how much grace and love was present in his words and actions. In our world today, it is so much easier to say, “I have no need of you,” and walk away. I listened to the man talk and I felt – insignificant. Would I work that hard to be an instrument of God’s love and power?
John Wesley, who is credited with starting a movement that became – in time – The United Methodist Church, worked hard in his sermons, and in his ministry to buckle together a sense of inner, personal piety and the outward expression of social holiness. He taught us about the importance of having one’s heart and mind shaped by the love read about in scripture. Wesley then taught us that as one grew in personal piety there was a natural expression of that faith-filled love that reached out to transform a life, or a system of oppression. Personal piety, for Wesley, was the foundation that called the people to works of social holiness, which became hospitals, schools, help for miners, and worked to end slavery and so much more. It seems to me that we have lost something of our Wesleyan heritage. We confuse anger and protest with real social holiness. We seem to have neglected the “going on to perfection” part of our call to personal piety.
Today I stand with my feet in the midst of swirling waters. The waters splash with a force that threatens to knock me over, and fear of drowning sets in. So, I fight. I fight to regain my footing. I struggle to remain upright. — Perhaps I have forgotten that the water which surrounds me might just be the waters of my baptism calling me to remember whose I am and who I am. — I thought about the story the man told about how far he would go to support his friend, and I suddenly realized that rather than fighting the force of the waters, perhaps I need to simply lay down and let the waters wash over me – and – remember my baptism.
Called Anew to Follow is the theme for this next year for our Conference. Perhaps this call starts with an examination of how we have managed to unbuckle personal piety from social holiness. Perhaps this call to follow anew begins with stepping back for a bit to consider what love looks like and to consider just how far love may need to go to bring about transformation, or offer hope, or lead to new life.
A group called Sidewalk Prophets, wrote a song that stirs my soul. It’s called Live Like That. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfosSggwQS0 I listen to the song and once again I feel insignificant. I realize that I have one life to live, and one opportunity to make a difference in this world. I have wasted so much time. I don’t know about you, but I want my life to count for something. I want to stop feeling insignificant. What about you? Will you be content with cookie walks and craft sales? Or will you join me in doing something bigger than that? Will you offer Jesus Christ your heart and soul, hands and voices and look for a new way of living in this world? How far will you go to save a life? Or to make a difference? Or to impact something for the good?
I have decided to give in to the swirling waters, to stop fighting against each wave. I have asked for and been granted leave from June 23 – August 30, 2019. According to the Book of Discipline ¶350.3, I will be on Formational and Spiritual Growth Leave. (Some call it Renewal Leave.) I plan to spend time reading the Bible and John Wesley. I will read Martin Luther King, Jr. and whatever else sounds beneficial to my journey. For fun I will also take some cooking classes. I am grateful for the other District Superintendents who will be available to support the churches in the East District while I am away. I ask for your prayers during this time. Know that I will continue to be in prayer for you.
As I end this very long blog, let me share the words of Bishop Leontine Kelly, who said, “walk in the waters of your baptism. You won’t drown.”
John 13:34-35 The Message – 34-35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”