I am staying with The United Methodist Church. There are good reasons to remain. The church welcomed me from my fundamentalist background. It has provided places for me to minister from to communities of which I never would have gone. The United Methodist Church gets some things wrong. What we get right. We get right. Yes, I too wish we did some things differently. But we are taking positions and actions others within the denomination believe should be taken. I listen to their reasons too. I will provide my four reasons for staying. And they are not necessarily the same ones for which I joined.
The Four Expressions of Grace
I was raised with an understanding of justifying and sanctifying grace. We are justified before God and sanctified by the Holy Spirit when we come to faith in Christ. Our United Methodist understanding of grace puts these in the middle point of a life in God.
Prevenient grace is experienced prior to justifying grace. I wish we had a better name. But at least other Methodists know what I mean when I use the term. My confirmation class explained grace in some great terms the other day. Mercy and grace are “like when a friend forgives you because they know you were having a bad day.” That particular theologian is 11 years old. Consider what is said here. “A friend forgives” implies a relationship is in place. The relationship exists prior to the need to forgive. This is the definition of prevenient grace. Methodists recognize there is a relationship between a loving God and human beings before human beings are saved. In fact, we emphasize it.
Perfecting grace means something different than both “once saved always saved” and “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” This expression of grace takes stumbling and growing into consideration. Our living in grace is a process that brings is to perfection in Christ.
The Connectional Reasons
I love the connectional system. On the one hand, there is not the continuous sending out of resumes and inquiries about open pulpits and churches looking for pastors. Some say that limits choice. It also cuts way down on the competition among clergy in the call system. “What you are leaving? I am sorry you had such a tough time. Who do I contact about applying?”
The connectional system is a shared ministry in practice as well as in name. The phone rings. Another clergy person is on the other end of the call asking for help in providing pastoral care in an emergency situation. I may not know the people in need. But I will go unless it is impossible. If I cannot there are other pastors to call.
The connection does not only exist for emergencies. It keeps us working and serving together.
Annual, district, and charge conferences vary in my appreciation. I prepare longest for charge conferences. Annual conferences last longer. District conferences often make me ask why I show up. But these conferences are more than reports, voting, resolving, and meeting over business. They all express the connectional ministry. I have never been to either General or Jurisdictional Conferences. But I understand the importance of organizing for ministry.
Conferences are also means of holding one another in mutual accountability. Sometimes this is hard for individual people and congregations. We feel the conference is unfair and often demanding. Clergy often feel the various conference responsibilities are only one way. Many times, sadly, they are. Clergy members suffer abuse, isolation, and spiritual stagnation because the Annual Conference feels it cannot respond in any effective way.
The clergy fellowship is where we turn in these situations. The conference authorities are not the best at providing comfort and healing. But other clergy in the Conference are. Nonetheless, the Conferences are one of my reasons for staying.
Sacraments as Reasons
The very first United Methodist congregation I served were starved for the sacraments. The pastor serving before me claimed he did not celebrate Holy Communion because he did not know how to. I have no idea how that happened. Bringing back first Sunday Communion was greatly appreciated by the congregation. My greatest reason for remaining is the celebration of the sacraments.
United Methodists celebrate Baptism and Holy Communion (The Great Thanksgiving if you want to be technical) as avenues of grace. These gifts that unite and preserve the Church do not get enough time when we discuss church business. No one in a congregational meeting ever asks, “when are we having baptism?” But often the question of when will we celebrate Holy Communion comes up. Christian worship is described as gathering around Book, Table and Font. Not every church I served had a font. Often, I move fonts into clear view of the congregation. After a while, congregations get used to seeing it and at least annually appreciating the importance of the both it and the sacrament it represents.
These four reasons are why I am staying. They are why I value the fellowship of The United Methodist Church. And they are good reasons for preserving that fellowship.