Monday, January 28, 2013

Mary Brooke Casad: Why I Am a United Methodist

I am a United Methodist by birth and by choice. My Methodist roots go back to my mother’s ancestors who gave land for a Methodist church to be built in Mississippi in the 1800s, to my father’s ancestors who became Methodists when Texas was a republic. Dr. Billy Abraham has teasingly called me a “genetic Methodist.” Perhaps I am a living testimony to the old saying: “I’m Methodist born, Methodist bred and when I die, I’ll be Methodist dead!” With such a long and strong tradition of Methodism in my heritage, there’s no question that it has shaped my identity. It’s at the core of who I am.

But at some point, we all must come to terms with our heritage. A young adult friend with a background like mine summed it up best: “I studied many other religions, and decided ‘Congratulations, Mom and Dad, the Methodists got it right.’ I’ve claimed my Wesleyan roots for myself.”

So, why do I claim my Wesleyan roots? What is it that we United Methodists “get right?”

Personal piety—social holiness

My language for this is “changed heart, changed world…changed world, changed heart.” We value John Wesley’s heart-warming experience on Aldersgate Street in London, where he felt Jesus had forgiven his sins, and realized his life could be lived in response to God’s grace. The actions springing from his strangely-warmed heart created a movement of transformation that continues to this day.

If our hearts are truly changed, then we bear fruit as we share the love of Christ through our actions and words. As others receive Christ’s love, they experience a changed heart. And the cycle begins again. It requires a delicate balance, with equal attention to both personal and social holiness.

Christ’s calling on our lives demands our all. Our response to God’s love is to serve God by serving others.

Grace—Prevenient, Justifying, Sanctifying

Life’s a journey, and God’s with us every step of the way, even when we don’t know it. God’s at work in our lives, and graciously invites us into relationship, so that we might live into the fullness of who God created us to be. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God loves and cares for us!

Catholic Spirit

Wesley spoke of the ‘catholic spirit’ or “universal spirit” meaning that we view ourselves as a part of the worldwide Body of Christ, and thus seek to dwell in unity with all whom Christ calls. We extend respect and openness to persons of all faiths, as we seek to “offer Christ” through Christ-like actions.

Three Simple Rules

Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God by attending upon all the ordinances of God. They sound simple, but they are very hard to live out! That’s why we come together in Christian community, to learn, to practice our faith, to hold one another accountable in love.

Wesleyan Quadrilateral

With fellow Christians, we look to Scripture as the primary focus of our faith, but through the lenses of tradition, reason and experience. For me, this mirrors Wesley’s emphasis on the whole person, that we bring the entire essence of our humanity to bear on engaging the Scriptures, in order to truly embrace and live out God’s Word.

Living the United Methodist way requires intentionality. Wesley’s way of living out the Christian faith requires a discipline, a “method.” But, oh, what joyful and grace-filled lives I’ve witnessed as a result! When I am with a community who believes these things with all their hearts, and strives to live these beliefs every day, then I know why I am a United Methodist. I am home.

Mary Brooke Casad is the former Executive Secretary of the Connectional Table. She chairs the Foundation for Evangelism Trustees and is a director of the Texas Methodist Foundation Board.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why I Choose to Be United Methodist Today

My name is Amy Valdez Barker and I am incredibly honored and excited to be invited to serve God through the ministry of the Connectional Table in The United Methodist Church. I am a cradle United Methodist who continues to fall in love with God through what I learn from our tradition as United Methodists and from the many people I meet in and through The United Methodist Church. I understand that we are not a perfect church nor do we have a perfect connectional system, but I am encouraged and hopeful by the good things United Methodists are doing throughout the world. My hope is that our theological understanding of God's grace and love will be celebrated and shared as we remember who God is calling us to be as people of God through The UMC.

Gil Rendle writes, "people now come to congregations because they want a purposeful relationship with others who are seeking a purpose and meaning in response to the questions that they feel in their lives." (Journey in the Wilderness) I believe that the UMC offers a compelling purpose for people of God to live transformed lives that abundantly reflect God's grace and love. Though we often fall short, I believe that we should never give up on trying to live that transformed life completely in love with God and abundantly sharing love with our neighbors all over the world.

Therefore, over this next year CT members will be invited to share why they choose The United Methodist Church today. Help us as we begin to count the abundant blessings that come through people in The United Methodist Church. Our CT blog will be devoted to this statement from CT members across the globe: Why I choose The United Methodist Church today… We hope you will come and share why YOU choose to be United Methodist today, too.

"I give myself completely to you, God. Assign me to my place in your creation. Let me suffer for you. Give me the work you would have me do. Give me many tasks, or have me step aside while you call others. Put me forward or humble me. Give me riches or let me live in poverty. I freely give all that I am and all that I have to you…"
These words are taken from the Covenant Renewal Service in the Wesleyan tradition. They were published in 1753 by John Wesley, and can be traced to a Puritan text written almost one hundred years earlier. The first covenant service in the Methodist movement was probably celebrated in 1755, according to The United Methodist Book of Worship. The service has been a popular one on New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and on the first Sunday of a new year. (Rev. Ken Carter, UMNS - Commentary: A Tale of Two Prayers, 6/25/2001)

The core of the United Methodist identity that I claim today comes from the fundamental elements of this Covenant Prayer. I treasure this tradition that seeks to surrender one self completely to the Creator and out of that deep love of God we desire to share that love with our neighbors. I love that in this United Methodist tradition we believe wholeheartedly in God’s abundant grace offered to all people everywhere. It is because we are a people seeking to understand what God’s grace means to us today and trying to live out a life of holiness because of that abundant grace that I find myself continuously drawn to this church. It is the impact of both our focus on our personal relationship with God and our responsibility to our neighbors, our communities, and all of God’s creation that reminds me how God wants me to live in this world today.

The gift (and sometimes challenge) of our connectional church is that we are a church community filled with people striving to live as the family of God, supporting one another and encouraging each other to be faithful. Like all families, there are great moments and challenging moments, but in the end we try our best to love one another as God loves us through it all. Connectional – Grace-Filled – People of God; that is why I choose to be United Methodist.