Monday, December 16, 2013

The Rev Mike Slaughter: Why I am United Methodist

When I was asked by the United Methodist Church to write a blog about why I choose to be United Methodist, I decided there are two influential drivers. First, it is an inheritance from my parents. My dad was raised Roman Catholic; my mom was from a Southern Baptist tradition. My birth convicted them to return to church but left them with the dilemma of "which church?" The neighborhood United Methodist congregation fit the bill. Part of our Methodist DNA is to see all Christians, everyone connected to Christ, as equal. That's why we have an open communion table and don't practice re-baptism. My boyhood church provided a safe place for both my Catholic dad and Baptist mom to experience acceptance and inclusion. This inclusiveness and our United Methodist emphasis on Holy Conferencing make us stronger as a faith movement. We embrace the Christ worthiness of all who come to the table, no matter how much we may disagree politically or theologically on the nonessentials.

Of course, as an adult, I could have easily shrugged off my spiritual inheritance. But, our United Methodist theological underpinnings keep me firmly committed.  Over a two-year period in my late teens, I had a radical new birth experience with Jesus Christ that transformed my life completely. It continues to shape who I am, what I do and how I believe almost 45 years later. The Trinitarian faith I learned about as a boy that proclaimed I could experience a deep and personal revelation of God through Jesus Christ laid the groundwork for all that I have become as a husband, father and pastor.

I am also completely sold out to our United Methodist emphasis on social holiness, the belief that we have power with God through our actions toward other people. I am grateful for our connectionalism and for the opportunities Ginghamsburg has had to work with our general boards and agencies to advance God’s mission. We have partnered with United Methodist Communications on annual Change the World weekends, challenging 11 million Methodists worldwide to take the church into the world, renewing, restoring and rebuilding communities. Our partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief within The General Board of Global Ministry (GBGM) has resulted in a $6.1 million investment for our sisters and brothers in Sudan and South Sudan to create new life pictures, job training, education, healing and hope. The child development and protection program alone has impacted over 30,000 children. We are now partnering with GBGM and our West Ohio Conference to help eliminate death from malaria in our lifetimes through Imagine No Malaria.

Especially this time of year as we remember that Christmas is not our birthday, I am honored to be part of this United Methodist faith movement –a people and a church that actively demonstrate Jesus’ authority over our lives by daily living out the sacrificial love of Christ toward the least and the lost.

Mike Slaughter is lead pastor and dreamer of GinghamsburgChurch. He represented the West Ohio Conference as lead delegate of the 2012 General Conference. His life-long passion is to reach the lost & set oppressed free; he is a tireless advocate for the displaced people of Darfur, Sudan.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Meredith Hoxie Schol - Route 122: "Leading Toward Transformation rather than Managing Collapse”

In addition to my appointment to the work of the Connectional Table, I am also deeply involved in the life of a small urban congregation on the northwest side of Chicago.  I love it dearly, and I’d like to think it is a church I would have found on my own, but, as luck (or itinerancy) would have it, my husband was appointed there in January 2012.  In our (almost) two years there, we have been a part of some really exciting work of the Holy Spirit, as this congregation on the brink of closure has more-than-doubled, largely because of new attendees and members under the age of 40.

I carry this story of this small church with me and tell it everywhere I can.  Not only am I proud of the work my husband has done, but I think it points to the reality that there are people (and I’m talking young people… those ever-so-elusive millennials everyone is blogging about these days) who are still looking for Christian community, and for the life transformation that comes along with finding a church home.

Last week, I had the chance to attend part of the Route 122 Network event in Indianapolis, put on by the General Board of Discipleship.  The theme of the event was, “Leading Toward Transformation rather than Managing Collapse.”  It brought together conference staff, district superintendents and other leaders focused on the renewal of existing congregations.  Sessions focused on a variety of ways to address change, including reports of best practices from local churches and annual conferences across the denomination.

In my life as a United Methodist, and particularly since coming to work at the Connectional Table, I sometimes hear lament over the disconnect between the local church and the broader denominational bodies.  While we continue to work on what it means to be a global, connectional church, I think events like the Route 122 Network are bright spots that show how our connectional nature truly allows us to accomplish more together than we could on our own.  Conference leaders sharing stories, sharing strategies, and agency leadership providing consultation and resources… it was an experience I found deeply enriching, both in terms of my work at the Connectional Table (primarily researching denominational collaboration) and in my identity as a participant in the life of a small, revitalizing church on the northwest side of Chicago.

For more information about Route 122 you can contact Betsey Heavner at

Meredith Hoxie Schol is the Missional Collaboration Coordinator with the Connectional Table.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rev. Harald Rückert: Why I Choose the United Methodist Church

The UMC in Germany – as in all other European countries – is a minority church. The Lutherans and Catholics are dominating in the public. Methodists, Baptists and others in Germany are small Christian churches, and were often suspected to be a sect.

My parents and grandmother were Methodists. They were proud of it and felt at home in this community. Unfortunately our church was located on the other side of town and therefore I could not participate in the children’s programs very often. Instead I went to the children’s Sunday School class of the Lutheran Church and became a boy scout in the YMCA – both just around the corner from where we lived. But in spite of that, there was no doubt: I am a Methodist!

This feeling became stronger when I entered the confirmation class in our Methodist Church. I found friends. I was invited to the trombone choir and had the opportunity to learn the trumpet. I was trained to lead a children’s group. I was allowed to play music with some friends on Sunday mornings - even rock music with my guitar! Our pastor and our youth leaders provided good biblical teaching. They laid a good foundation. I felt at home at church.

Some of my good YMCA friends were involved in the charismatic movement. They shared their experiences of the Spirit with me. For almost two years I tried to combine both: being a “sober” Methodist and being a sympathizer with the charismatic spirituality. Although I made some important experiences, it became very clear: This expression of faith does not fit me. Intentionally and with full conviction I became a confessing member of the UMC. There were people of all ages at church - I needed all of them. The UMC appeared to be a pious community - but at the same time very open-minded and sensitive for the needs of our world. There was a structure - but very much freedom at the same time. There were rules - but the needs of people were always more important. There were well educated pastors with a mature theology - but lay people contributed equally to the mission. There was a local church, small and far from being perfect – but it was part of a big worldwide family. Even at the age of 19 I had a good feeling for all of this.

Then I left my home town for university (I studied food chemistry before I was called to become a pastor). There was no Methodist Church at the new place. For that time I joined a small Mennonite congregation.

All of these ecumenical experiences, influences and contacts were enriching my spirituality. They did not threaten my Methodist identity. In fact they helped me to gain a clearer understanding of what it means to be a Methodist. I became proud of the gift to live within this church. Still I am passionate about our church, even though there was a lot of disillusion during my time as a district superintendent. But still I am curious how God will serve our world through the UMC in the future and I want to be part of this adventure.

Rev. Harald Rückert is pastor of a local church in Reutlingen, Germany South Annual Conference. Since 1992 he is member of the Central Conference of Germany. He was elected delegate to the 2008 and 2012 General Conferences. He held appointments in local churches and a church planting project. For 10 years he served as district superintendent. He is engaged in the leadership training programs for candidates and ordained ministers in his Central Conference. Complimentary he is chair of an addiction therapy institution of the Church.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rev Tim Rogers: Why I am a United Methodist

The United Methodist Church has been God’s agent of change in my life.  We frequently hear that we should get out of our comfort zone in order to grow.  Well, I like my comfort zone.  I am not happy when I have to leave it.  I am a small-town boy who resents change.  Little did I know that by answering the call to ordained ministry, and choosing to stay in the denomination I grew up in, that I had signed up for a lifetime of change.

I doubt that my experiences as a United Methodist pastor have been unique.  My first appointment came when the phone rang unexpectedly during my middler year in seminary. Two of my appointments have been to places that I could not identify on a map beforehand.  One was to the one place I told my wife we could never be appointed to.  One came with a question from the cabinet: would I like to? My answer: no I would not.  I served that appointment for seven years. I signed up to serve as a United Methodist clergy with the expectation that I would tend the faithful who would show up on my church’s doorstep.  I woke up one morning living in one of the largest mission fields in the world.

All of this change has led me to meet and work with many, many amazing people.  I have been blessed to work with men and women of all kinds of backgrounds from all sorts of places.  There have been brilliant thinkers, devoted servants, inspirational leaders, and – above all – genuine lovers of God.  Exposure to so many genuine servants of the Gospel has been a challenge to grow in my own life and faith.

Every step, unbidden and unplanned on my part, has been useful to God in the continual work of re-shaping my heart.  Every wound has been an opportunity for grace.  Every new work has been a challenge to grow.  Every defeat has been a tutor in the discipline of trust.  Every move from appointment to appointment has taught the transience of things and the value of relationships: relationships with people, and above all, my relationship with God.

Relationships with people become more astonishing with time.  There are a number of people who, for reasons that are not clear to me, love me.  Miracles happen.  My relationship with God becomes ever more central as the days pass by.  I have learned that I cannot live without a vital, daily relationship with God through Christ.  Or rather, life without faith in Christ is a kind of living death for me.

Like many of us, I did not fully understand all that I was agreeing to when I said “Yes” to God’s call to ordained ministry.  But it was the United Methodist Church that gave me a place to respond to that call.  And it has been the United Methodist Church that God has used to make, and re-make, and re-make my soul.  We call it sanctification.  It has not always been easy.  But it has been grace-filled.  I would not change it.

The Rev. Tim Rogers is a member of the South Carolina Conference and serves as the senior pastor of Mt. Hebron UMC. He has previously served as Conference Secretary and Coordinator of Clergy Services. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, he and his wife live in Lexington, SC. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bishop Jeremiah Jungchan Park: Why I am a United Methodist

Once a Methodist, a Methodist forever. That’s how I was born and raised. My father was a Methodist pastor in Korea and I was a Methodist before I was born. My Christian identity has never been separated from my identity as a Methodist in Korea and now a United Methodist in the U.S. it will never be.

I am a United Methodist because I affirm the spirituality, theology, practice, and tradition of Methodism. I wholeheartedly embrace the evangelistic zeal for making disciples of Jesus Christ and the missional passion for transforming the world. I believe in a healthy balance of personal holiness and public and corporate witness to social holiness, holding the two in harmony and tension. I believe in discipleship as a process. No one has arrived. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, everyone is on a journey of faith with God and with one another. All of us are encouraged and challenged to continue to grow, expand, and change in the understanding and practice of discipleship. I also believe in the connectional nature of the church. We are better together for ministry and are stronger together for mission. Together we can be more and do more as a church. I highly value the big tent image of the church. No one way of being or doing the church is perfect. There’s always room for all God’s people to be a part of our church.

I once expressed the vision of my church in these words: A truly inclusive, diverse, evangelistic, missional, healthy, and growing church, where people are accepted and affirmed as God’s children of sacred worth, confirmed and convicted as disciples of Jesus Christ, and commissioned and sent as ministers and missionaries of the Gospel.  I am a United Methodist because I believe that I have the best chance to be a part of the church of my dream in the United Methodist Church than in any other church. The world is facing ever-increasing diversity, demographic change, societal illness, conflict, humanitarian needs, and environmental crisis. Real and significant opportunities for life-changing and community-transforming mission and ministry are being created for such a time as this. I am a United Methodist because I believe that the United Methodist Church has the best means to make a difference in the world. God is not finished with our church yet.

Let me add an intensely personal reason why I am a United Methodist. It’s “grace”. I experience the width, the length, the height, and the depth of grace in the most incredible way through my journey as a United Methodist. I started my journey as a United Methodist when I immigrated to the USA 36 years ago. As the Resident Bishop of the Harrisburg Area, I now live in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, some 50 miles away from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is the birthplace of Korean Methodism. A young man named Henry G. Appenzeller, who was nurtured in a Methodist church in that place came to Korea in 1885 as the first missionary sent from the church now known as the United Methodist Church. Some 128 years later, there are over 5,000 Methodist churches with some 1.5 million Methodists in Korea. Here I am, a product of the Korean Methodist Church and a first generation immigrant, now serving as a United Methodist Bishop near the place where it all started. This amazing grace grabbed me only because I am a United Methodist. Why am I a United Methodist? What happened to me could only happen in the United Methodist Church. “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1Corinthians 15:10a). Being a United Methodist is an essential part of what I am, a swimmer in the sea of grace.

Bishop Jeremiah J. Park was elected to the episcopacy in 2004 and is currently serving in the Harrisburg Area after serving 8 years with the New York Area.  He became President of the General Commission on Archives and History in September 2012.  He has served as DS and Council Director for the Northern/Greater New Jersey Annual Conference as well as the associate director of the Multi-Ethnic Center for Ministry of the NEJ.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Benedita Nhambiu: Why I choose to be United Methodist

Why I choose to be a Methodist? Initially there was no other alternative. Both my parents were Methodists and in Chicuque, the small missionary village where I was born, being Methodist was what one would be, if not unchurched.

While still an infant, my parents had to move to another country where there was no Methodist congregation close to where we lived. Because of that, I was baptized in a Presbyterian church and had my first Christian Education classes, Bible Vacation Schooling and Sunday Schooling in that Church. By then, church was that building and that particular congregation we attended.

When we came back home, being already a preteen, I was surprised to hear about “conferences” of all sorts. It took me a while to understand what was going on: it was so confusing! The fact that the pastors seemed to be rotating yearly from one congregation to other was not helping as well. But the most interesting thing was that everyone could be involved in church work: Men and women, youth and adults served in different commissions and committees, task forces and all of the like. They performed all sort of tasks, from catering to preaching and, no one was too good to perform any task. That was too much fun!

While still a teen, I started participating in church activities and in conferences. I have worn a variety of hats, mainly in youth groups, as did most youths of my times. Life seemed to follow its natural course in an orderly and predictable manner.

Suddenly everything seemed to change: the much awaited Independence from colonial rule had arrived! It brought so many changes that even church structure was affected! Being Christian became somehow politically incorrect as religion was declared “people’s opium”. Only fools and desperate were supposed to attend the church. Those were hard times for Mozambican Christians: many gave up adhering to more trendy status. That was a crossroads point! This situation prevailed for almost a decade affecting a whole generation. In our church most pastors are either older or younger than me because during those years very few people of my age had the opportunity to hear the call to ministry.

I have chosen to stay with the United Methodist Church: I felt there was still room for revival and that the Spirit that once warmed Wesley‘s heart was still at work.

Three decades later I thank God for this blessed decision. I have even more opportunities to serve in my church at all levels and I am proud to belong to this glorious denomination, for the honor and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This why I choose to be United Methodist!

Ms. Nhambiu serves as the secretary of the Africa Central Conference, and is a member of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. She has held leadership positions at the local, district and conference and general church levels. She is a member of the Mozambique South Annual Conference.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Connectional Table - Online Communion Reflection

I am SUCH a United Methodist.

The opportunity I now have to serve our church by supporting the Connectional Table constantly calls upon memories of the places and spaces where I’ve learned to be a United Methodist: from the local churches that baptized and confirmed me, to the annual conference youth programs that instructed me, through my United Methodist seminary education with a field educational component at a General Agency. I am truly a product of our connectional structure.  The United Methodist Church, as a whole, has developed the ongoing call of God in my life to serve the church and the world.

This development has given me a deep appreciation for the way our connectional, worldwide church makes disciples in a variety of contexts.  As I have experienced first hand with my work with the Connectional Table, this might mean our work together feels clunky, and perhaps (to the dismay of many) slow-moving.  Working together in a denomination as large and diverse as ours requires challenging conversations and often moments of Holy-Spirit-inspired compromises in order to most effectively live into our mission. 

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to be present for a conversation about the practice of the sacrament of Holy Communion in our United Methodist Church.  The buzz that stirred this conversation into being came from a proposal by a congregation , responding to perceived contextual needs, is exploring interactive media as a space (if not physical place) for gathering as the Body of Christ.  (  Twenty-seven leaders of The UMC, including scholars, bishops, local church clergy and General Agency staff gathered (in person) in Nashville to discuss how these online communities of faith might address the concern of sacraments, communion in particular.  (

I’ll be honest.  I personally came into this experience as one who was beyond skeptical that this was a topic that even merited serious consideration.  The idea of communion being anything other than a communal practice shared among the gathered (and here I mean physically)  - or collectively scattered - Body of Christ, connecting the children of God with both the memory of Jesus’ final meal and the foretaste of a heavenly banquet, seemed… well… crazy.  (I’m going with “crazy” here because I don’t typically throw “heresy” or “abomination” bombs… that’s not my style.)

As I sat and listened, the hours passed, and voice after voice around the conference table seemed to echo the same sense of disbelief.

And yet, we engaged the conversation.  (Much to the chagrin of some of our ecumenical colleagues and many of those “following” the trending conversations on Twitter – #onlinecommunion.) And as the conversation went on, I experienced the Holy Spirit stir important questions, challenging this group to name again, in new ways, what it means to be a church.

The group ultimately decided to urge the Council of Bishops to call for a moratorium on online sacramental practices, while also committing to actively lead the denomination to develop excellent practices of online ministry across the connection.  They also covenanted to share the notes and papers from this conversation with the broader church in an effort to educate others in our denominational sacramental theology.  (

In the days that followed this experience, the same Spirit I felt stirring the group’s conversation continued to stir within me.  I continued to reflect on how conversations like this one invite us to be challenged by the differing perspectives and the realities of our brothers and sisters.  This kind of dialogue is not only helpful, but I would contend, it is vital to our connectional nature as United Methodists.  While some might scoff at the fact that we entertained such a “crazy” notion, the fact that we engaged it gives me hope for our denomination.  As we seek to address cultural, technological, and economic shifts within our ministry context, we should continually be asking how we can broaden these conversations, learning from one another, listening to each other, and challenging each other.  Further, I hope that as we continue to explore and develop excellent practices for online ministry we continue to consider who else might need to come to the table.

Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, Executive Secretary of the Connectional Table, sent me to be a part of this meeting to watch and to listen, from a General Church perspective, for the ways we are talking about and embodying our ecclesial identity.  As I listened, this conversation uncovered ways our worldwide nature is reflected (or not), and also named ways we are pursuing congregational growth and vitality (and at what cost).  This conversation also wrestled with parameters for what our New Places for New People can and should look like, and questioned how (and to what end) we are authorizing our Principled Christian Leaders in ministry with the world.  Clearly, this was a conversation ripe with important issues that need to be conveyed across the denomination. 

The Connectional Table’s work is to build bridges and build relationships; to share stories, and to share strategies. More than simply confirming our sacramental theology, this gathering also convicted me of the importance of these relational mandates in the stewardship of our denominational resources.  Our ongoing life together as the Church will continue to be shaped by conversations like this one, and the Holy Spirit will continue to show up wherever two (or twenty-seven) are gathered. 

As we move toward our CT meeting next month (wow, next month, already?!), will you join me in prayer that our conversation as The Connectional Table might be reflective of the unity-in-diversity we embody as a denomination.  It is my prayer that as we gather (in person) and share in the Lord’s Supper, the presence of the Living God will embolden us to let all voices be heard, and in the hearing of these perspectives, that we might catch a glimpse of God’s vision for our church and for our ministry with the world. 

I believe there is always more work to be done to build and convey a shared understanding of our mission and vision as a denomination.  I share this reflection in hopes that, by God’s grace, The Connectional Table might renew its commitment to play an important role in that work.

Meredith E. Hoxie Schol, is the Missional Collaboration Coordinator for the Connectional Table.