Ricky Harrison: I Am a United Methodist Because…

If I were taking a multiple choice exam on United Methodism the first question might look something like this...

1. I am a United Methodist because:

A.   I was born, baptized, and raised in the United Methodist Church
B.   I have logically thought through United Methodist beliefs
C.   I have felt a strange warming of my heart which I can't logically explain
D.   All of the above

My first instinct would be to pick choice A...

Being a third generation Methodist on both sides of my family, I am proud to say that I was born and raised in a strong United Methodist home. Both my parents and grandparents were avid church-goers and I can't remember a single time in my life when I wasn't up at the church at least 2-3 times each week. While growing up both of my parents were youth ministers, so I was adopted into the club as an unofficial PK (Preacher's Kid) early on in life. I can remember receiving my third grade bible, being confirmed, and graduating from the youth program in United Methodist churches. I was one of those kids who was always up at the church, even when it wasn't officially "open." During Jr. High I was invited to serve in leadership on my local youth council and then on the North Texas Conference youth council. I then somehow wound up becoming involved in planning events with the South Central Jurisdictional Youth Team and eventually found myself in Berlin, Germany for the Global Young People's Convocation. All this to say, sometimes I think that perhaps I am a United Methodist simply because it's in my blood, I just can't help being one. Like the old saying goes, I'm a cradle Methodist born and bred...

But then my left-brain might kick in and pick choice B...

Unfortunately I didn't receive many of the creative genes in my family. I'm the funky left-brained child who likes organized calendars, formulated Excel sheets, and logical explanations for all of life's hard questions. Knowing this about me, it might make sense that I find the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to be fascinating! I'm not limited to the simple acceptance of what someone tells me Scripture and Tradition say, but the United Methodist Church encourages me to interpret these sources through my God-given gifts of Reason and the life which I and my worldwide community of faith Experience together. I'm encouraged to use my brain to think through the words of Jesus and ask questions like 'What does this mean for my life today?' I get to enter into holy conversations with people whom I don't see eye-to-eye with on social issues or matters of faith and embark together on a journey of seeking clarity and understanding. I'm encouraged to not only learn the doctrines of faith but to think for myself in a way that allows me to own my faith and not simply hold on to something I've blindly inherited from my parents and grandparents. And when I meet another left-brained United Methodist who, after embarking on a journey of holy conversations together, still does not see eye-to-eye with me on an issue, I am able to rest assured in the words of John Wesley that we can "think and let think" in "all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity." With my fellow United Methodists I can "agree to disagree" and still know that we are journeying along the same road which leads us to the All Knowing One, whose knowledge far surpasses our simple logical minds.

But then my heart feels a tug, and I lean towards choice C...

In his Journal, John Wesley once wrote

"In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

Like most well-read Wesleyans, this is one of my favorite pieces of imagery from Wesley's writings. Just as John Wesley, I grew up in a Christian home, had parents who were ministers and taught me what it meant to be a Christian. I faithfully attended church each Sunday and had a deep love for the people who made up my extended church-family. However, it has been the unexplainable moments where I have felt the presence of God move within me which have meant the most in my faith journey.

  • When I stood on the hilltop of Bridgeport Church Camp and watched the sun set behind that old rugged cross during worship, the hairs on my arms standing up as I felt the presence of God amidst this gathering of people I loved. I could feel God's love radiating around me and wrapping me up in a sea of grace
  • When I gathered at sunrise in Duke Chapel every day for two weeks with the Duke Youth Academy Class of 2009 and listened to the words "In the Lord I'll be ever thankful, in the Lord I will rejoice! Look to God, do not be afraid! Lift up your voices the Lord is near! Lift up your voices the Lord is near!" echo through the chapel spires. While the rays of the morning sun shone through the stained glass windows warming my face the rays of God's presence shone through and warmed my soul. My spirit was fed through living in intentional Christian community for two weeks and I had many moments in which I felt the presence of God moving in my life, pushing me closer and closer towards Him.
  • When I stood behind my mom as Bishop McKee laid his hands upon her head and charged her to, "take authority as a deacon to proclaim the Word of God and to lead God's people in the ministries of compassion and justice." In these moments I not only experienced tremendous pride and joy for my mom but had this strange sense of finding God's calling for my life. I could see myself standing in her shoes, beginning to understand with a new found sense of clarity the call to ordained ministry which God has placed on my heart.

In each of these moments I have felt something almost inexplicable pulling and tugging inside of me. It is a mix of joy and gladness, hope and inspiration, awe and reverence, warmth and love. It is the feeling of God moving in and through me and sometimes even despite of me. It is the sound of God calling me by name. It is in these moments that I most deeply feel the reason why I am a United Methodist.

So I'm only left with D. All of the Above

I return now to the first question posed on my multiple choice United Methodism exam. Why am I a United Methodist? Yes, it is because I am a cradle Methodist and have a passionate love for the United Methodist Church ingrained deep in my bones. Yes, it is because I can use my brain to think through the tough questions of life and have real conversations with people whom I don't agree. Yes, it is because I feel God calling my heart in a special and indescribable way. But it is not any one of these things alone...it is all of them combined. I am a United Methodist today because this tradition I was born into allows me to, as the great hymn writer Charles Wesley once wrote, "unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety."

Ricky Harrison is a lay member of the First United Methodist Church of Richardson in the North Texas Conference. He is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in Religion at McMurry University in Abilene, TX and plans to continue his education by pursuing a Masters of Divinity after graduating in May. Ricky has been actively involved in both volunteer and professional Youth Ministry for the past ten years. He hopes to live out his vocational call by seeking ordination as a Deacon in order to serve the United Methodist Church in ministry with young people.

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