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By Rev. Matt Ashley, South District Missional Strategist & Superintendent

Joy, Compassion. Innovation.

Three qualities I have written about in my last three newsletter articles, and three qualities that I hope define the South District. I want my church to be joyful, compassionate, and innovative so they will know we are Christians by our love.

I was thinking about that and there seemed to be one more word I was looking for.

Excellence? I hope that our churches, our lay people, and our clergy will be committed to fulfilling our callings with excellence. To not be content with mediocrity but to put our everything into doing ministry as well as we can do it – that sounds good to me. But excellence was not quite the word I was looking for.

Fruitfulness? That’s a good and scriptural choice; in the secular world we might chase success, but in the church we want to be fruitful. If we are faithful, and if we allow the Spirit of God to work though us, then we can be fruitful in ministry. On the other hand, sometimes we learn from drought; sometimes we try new things and fail, but we can learn from failures and move forward. Fruitfulness is a good choice, but sometimes we can be faithful and still not be fruitful, so it’s not quite the word I was looking for.

Faithfulness. That’s the word I was looking for. That’s the fourth quality that I hope defines the culture of the South District and its churches.

I hope we are faithful to our calling – as churches, as clergy, as a district.

I hope we are faithful to scripture. That’s not easy because so often we have different views on what scripture is calling us to do. Perhaps the faithfulness comes in the way we wrestle with scripture, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us, showing one another grace when we cannot agree.

I hope we are faithful to our identity as United Methodists – people who value our connection, people who value both spiritual growth and service to the world, people who are committed to justice, people who are committed to the treasurers of our Wesleyan tradition.

I hope we are faithful to the covenants we make with God and one another – the covenants of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, the covenants of our baptismal vows and membership vows and ordination vows, the covenants of our connection.

I hope we are faithful to our identity as a courageous church – loving like Jesus, acting for justice, united in hope.

I hope we are faithful to one another – that if we cannot think alike, we can still love alike, because we are bound by the love of Jesus Christ. That we will encourage one another and build each other up, rather than attack one another and tear one another down.

I hope we are faithful to our core responsibilities to love God, to love one another, to love our neighbors, to love even our enemies, because even when we don’t feel like doing those things, that is what our Lord asks of us.

In my lifetime I’ve tried to learn how to play several instruments – piano, clarinet, saxophone, guitar. None of them came naturally to me, but I also didn’t like to practice, and so I can’t play any of those instruments.  I wasn’t a faithful music student, and so I didn’t progress.

I’ve also tried to learn several foreign languages – Spanish, Russian, Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Greek, German, a bit of French. I’m a better foreign language student than I am a musician, but I also didn’t stick with any of those languages long enough to master them.  I would’ve had to invest my time and my energy and make a long-term commitment.  I was a faithful enough student to get mostly A’s and B’s in those classes, but in each case my faithfulness ended when the class did.

Faithfulness is investing our whole heart and whole being into what God is calling us to do and sticking with it even when it gets hard.

Faithfulness is walking the road and not stopping even when the way is treacherous because we know where Jesus is leading us.

Faithfulness is working for justice, knowing that it means good trouble, persevering because we know that one day it will roll down like waters.

Faithfulness is Jesus loving the world no matter what – loving you and me, no matter what. Even when they nailed him to a cross, he never stopped loving. That is faithfulness. That is what we are called to.

We have twenty-nine churches in the South District, all with sparks of vitality, all with wonderful people, and the love of Christ is ready to shine within us so that we are shining like stars in the world.

I hope too that we will be twenty-nine faithful churches. Churches with a deep commitment to the ministry of love and justice that Jesus has called us to.

Joyful. Compassionate. Innovative. Faithful. I hope those words come to mind when people describe the South District. Thank you for all the ways you’re already making that hope a reality.

Thanks for listening –
Matt

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