Monday, March 18, 2013

Ole Birch: Why I Choose to be United Methodist

Choosing to be a United Methodist is a very important thing in my country and in the whole of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference. Denmark has a population of 5.5 million people and 4.5 million of them are members of the Lutheran State Church. The UMC Denmark has 1,200 confessing members in 10 local churches. Methodism is small minority in all the countries of my Central Conference, which presents us with a unique set of challenges when it comes to choosing to be a Methodist. In a culture where church was defined according to nationality from the time of the Reformation in the 16th century (in Eurasia even longer), and to some extent still continues today, the choice to become something other than the norm must be a conscious one.

Methodists, in our culture, have to articulate for themselves and for the people they live among, the reasons why they belong to this church with the strange foreign name. If we do not have a clear understanding of our identity and specific Methodist mission, we have no valid reason to exist, and we likely will disappear into the sea of the majority culture surrounding us.  This is especially true in my country, since the core understanding of basic Christian doctrine in Methodism and Lutheranism overlap in so many ways, making it hard to argue that there is a need for two churches based on marginal confessional differences.

Nevertheless, Methodists in Denmark (including myself), have found that there is a growing need for a specific Methodist witness in our culture.

The Danish society is one of the most secular in the world. Only 2% of the population attends church on an average Sunday. To the average Dane, church is an institution that provides important services during life’s transitional points. Danes expect ceremonies for baptism, confirmation, weddings and funerals, much in the same way as they expect service from the Postal Service, the State Railways or national museums. The church is financed through taxes and the upkeep of church property, worship and programs are done by employed officials. It is a fully automated system that doesn’t require the members to be involved in the day to day business.

Imagine the challenge that this culture presents to communicate a vision of a missional church, with devoted members, a strong sense of community and vital congregations, that call, equip and send disciples into the world, to “reform the nation…through scriptural holiness”!

Yet, that is exactly why I chose to be a United Methodist. I draw my passion for being a Methodist from the vision of John Wesley and the early Methodists. I believe that this is what we were raised up to do - to call people to Christ and send them into the world to be missionaries of grace. This is the grace that brings people into a true relationship to God, and the grace that changes societies and nations - Amazing Grace.

My passion is nourished by my experiences as a pastor of a local church in Copenhagen, where I see this vision unfold. There is a longing for a different kind of church in my culture. A church that finds Christ at the center of an inviting, relevant and vital community with a vision to grow, in order to affect more and more people with God’s grace. Methodism carries that vision in its DNA, and that is why I chose to be a United Methodist.

In Christ,
Ole Birch


Rev. Ole Birch is a district superintendent in the Danish annual conference, and a member of the Council of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference. He also serves as pastor of the UMC Copenhagen, a church with a missional approach to ministry through music, diaconal service and church plants.