Monday, February 25, 2013

Turner Arant: Why I Choose The United Methodist Church

The early years of my life were in a Union Church where we had a Baptist preacher twice a month and a Methodist preacher twice a month. My family has been Methodist for more than 80 years. As I grew up, I was active in the church. I married at the age of 21 and my wife was a strong Christian. We were both active in the church.

I like the connectional issue because I feel at home in any UMC I have attended. Many of the friendships we have made through the years have been through the Methodist church. I believe the theology of the UMC is Biblically based.

The Wesleyan theology of prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace appeals to me as the basic teaching of Jesus Christ. I believe our Book of Discipline is soundly based on Biblical beliefs. This is why I choose the United Methodist Church.

Turner Arant, a Connectional Table member from the Southeastern Jurisdiction, is a member of First UMC in Indianola, Mississippi. He has served as first lay delegate to four General Conferences since 2000 and serves on the SEJ Episcopacy committee, the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation and several other United Methodist and community organizations. Turner is married to the former Sybil Kirk. They have a son, two daughters, and five grandchildren.

Turner is an award-winning catfish farmer. In 1962 he was one of the first to begin the production of catfish in the Mississippi Delta. In 1982 he received the Farmer of the Year Award from the Catfish Farmers of America. He received the Mississippi State University Agribusiness Award in production agriculture. In 1987 he was recognized as Mississippi Farmer of the Year awarded by Mississippi Department of Agriculture and sponsored by Mississippi Satellite Network. He was recognized by Mississippi State University as Alumnus of the Year for Agriculture. He is a board member of Community Bank of Mississippi, Farmers Grain Terminal, and Delta Western Catfish Feed Mill. He served six years on the United States Department of Agriculture Research Board for Agriculture.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Neil Alexander: Why I Choose The United Methodist Church

Our past reveals embarrassing imperfections; our present is marked by sharp divisions; our future filled with uncertainty.

And yet, we are here and we are there, diverse and widely scattered United Methodist people striving eagerly to bear witness to grace upon grace. It is reassuring to be linked with folks who openly grapple with tensions over theology, missiology, ecclesiology, and social witness. Why? Because of what we believe, where we serve, how we worship and live together, and what we stand and work for. These things matter.

Right from the get-go the brothers Wesley were in full-throttle pursuit of a vibrant, relevant Spirit-led community deeply rooted in an historic, ecumenical, and world-changing Christ-centered way of being and doing.

It is a wonderful challenge to be part of a church that
  • hungers for people everywhere and through all time to know and love God
  • sometimes grudgingly but nevertheless emphatically has come to repudiate systems that oppress or discount the least and the lost
  • opens its heart and treasure to link arms with and care for the welfare of people all around the world—especially the poor
  • ambitiously sets out with passionate evangelical zeal to reform the nations and spread scriptural holiness across the lands.
I’m grateful beyond measure for our predecessors who preached the Gospel and drew faith communities together near and far, for all those who cultivated the women’s mission movement that established houses of hospitality and centers of education for immigrants, for bands of Wesley’s heirs who set up hospitals and established colleges, for a people who eventually learned to hate slavery and work to end racism and who in time affirmed the call of women to ordained ministry. None of these and a thousand other imperfect but glorious hints of faithfulness came easily, given entrenched traditions and privileged social orders that fiercely resisted many grace-filled initiatives.

Yes! How gratifying to be part of a connection of would-be disciples who are reluctant to engage in self-congratulation at a time when the world is so obviously desperate for a even more pervasive and deeper evidence of authentic personal and social holiness.

We’re here! We’re there! In East Africa and the Philippines, in Wyoming and Alabama, in Berlin and Anchorage. In many places and soon in even more, we are engaging with people who are seeking and suffering and serving as the body of Jesus Christ.

Together we are involved in outrageously difficult ventures:
  • planting new churches in Laos and Vietnam
  • providing quality care for children in the war-torn Sudan
  • starting new communities for worship and disciple-making in downtown Chicago
  • raising tens of millions of dollars to eradicate malaria in Africa.

Some might choose to retreat or take a less ambitious path in the face of discouraging cultural trends, economic woes, and a conventional wisdom that says our days of glory as the people called Methodists are long past and we risk being increasingly out of step with the needs and sensibilities of the post-post-modern world.

I don’t choose the UMC because we’ve got it all right. I choose the UMC because we have been and continue to be head-over-heels in love with God, followers of Jesus who is moving way ahead of us into the hearts and hurts of the world and beckoning us to catch up. I’m not in love with the UMC because we were or are perfect, but because by God’s grace we are moving on . . .

Neil M. Alexander is president and publisher of the United Methodist Publishing House.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Raúl B. Alegría: Why I Choose to be United Methodist

I am a lay member of Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood, TN. I have been a member of Brentwood UMC since 1995 when my wife, Bilha and my daughters Cynthia and Monica joined BUMC. My journey in the United Methodist Church started when my parents, Ricardo and Marcela Alegria began attending a local church in Corpus Christi, Texas. My brothers, sister (we were 5 siblings then) attended church mostly with my Mother at St. Patrick's Church, a Roman Catholic Church. Between when I was age 6 to age 9 Mom and Dad changed churches, first to a Presbyterian church and then to a storefront church. All these churches were located on the West Side of Corpus Christi, Texas, which was then and still is today predominately Hispanic/Latino and very Mexican-American.

When I was 10 (around 1960) our storefront church, El Buen Pastor, was visited by "Methodists" who invited the church leaders to join the Rio Grande Annual Conference. In 1961 El Buen Pastor became a Methodist Church. El Buen Pastor changed locations in 1962. My first Methodist Pastor was Daniel Rodriguez who served El Buen Pastor church, followed by Ramon Ramirez (he would become my future father-in-law), Ruben Salcido, Ovidio Amaro and Brigido Vera. There was another Latino Methodist Church in Corpus, Kelsey Memorial. However my family's church was El Buen Pastor until my life's journey would lead me away from Corpus Christi.

I did not know much about the Methodist Church in 1960-1970 except that the Methodists changed names in 1968 and became a United Methodist Church and a Bishop, O. Eugene Slater, came to dedicate El Buen Pastor in May 1969 after its debt was paid off. I learned more about the United Methodist Church and what it was about after 1969.

1969 was a year of many cambios (changes) for me. I graduated from W.B. Ray High School, I started college and I accepted Jesus as my savior. Of course during the 1960's all of the Alegria siblings (brothers and sister) worked in the family business, 7 Seas Fish Market. That meant working for my father, the toughest boss I ever knew. My Dad was a plain-talking and hard-working man. Dad always told my brothers and me that none of us would ever be unemployed. I knew after I heard my Dad's words my path to personal happiness and professional satisfaction meant staying enrolled at Texas A&I University at Kingsville, Texas and eventually graduating from there in 1973. My life as a Latino young man involved my family, my local church, El Buen Pastor, my friends in and outside of my local church. My local church was a constant presence and support for my family and me.

After my graduation from Texas A&I University in 1973 I joined the staff of the General Board of Pensions (later to be renamed the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits) in Evanston, IL. In 1974 Bilha Ramirez (daughter of Ramon and Esperanza Ramirez) and I reconnected and fell in love (I always loved Bilha!!) and were engaged to be married. On Sunday June 22, 1975 (an extremely warm day) Bilha and I were married at El Buen Pastor UMC in Edinburg, Texas.

Raúl and Bilha with grandchildren
The family business of the Alegria's had been a fish market but in reality my work at the GBOPHB put me directly into the work of the United Methodist Church. Marrying a preacher's daughter reinforced the life journey God directed me towards. God has blessed Bilha and me with two daughters and three grandchildren. Our marriage and our faith moved us from Texas, Illinois, California, Tennessee and then only me to North Carolina and now Bilha and I (and our family) are together again in Tennessee.

My journey in the United Methodist Church has been a blessing. I have been blessed to know many persons in and outside the church across the years and have served the church in many different places. It is because of the church MARCHA (Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans) and I were connected, it is because of the church my family and I were welcomed into its membership and it is through the church my family and I are blessed by its care and love for each of us.

Why do I choose to be United Methodist? My local church, El Buen Pastor, in Corpus Christi, Texas that welcomed my family shared the story of Jesus' love for me. That church is directly connected to my local church in Brentwood, TN. The United Methodist Church is the place through which all of its local churches are connected and united. Wherever the United Methodist Church is (Brentwood, TN; Corpus Christi, Texas; Mutare, Zimbabwe; Northbrook, IL etc.,) our churches share the story of Jesus' love for each of us. It is by that story I am saved by God's grace. My late pastor, Howard Olds, always preached, "be a blessing to others". With God's guidance I hope to be that blessing so others can know God.

­¡A Dios sea la gloria!

Raúl Alegría serves as President of MARCHA, the national UM caucus advocating for Hispanics/Latinos within and outside the UMC. Raúl served as Treasurer of the Southeastern Jurisdiction from 2004-2012 and as Chief Financial Officer of Lake Junaluska Assembly, Inc. in North Carolina until his retirement on 12-31-2012.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward: Why I Choose the UMC

We love because God first loved us.  In a profound sense, I choose the UMC because God in Christ chose the UMC for me!

I choose the UMC, full of hope that we will live in ever-increasing fruitfulness through Christ in the world.  Our calling is always to turn outward, to experience the Living Christ at the place where the mission of the church meets the world.

Bishop Francis Asbury told the frontier Methodists in America, "Take the resources from the center to the circumference."  This is the challenge for us today, in every place where United Methodists are present.

God is active at the margins.  We meet Christ in the face of those who are sick or anxious or fearful, who are young or elderly, who are searching or hungry.  I choose the UMC because the heritage, the theology and the vision of our church turns us to face out  into the world God loves.

When I was a child, growing up within the embrace of Parkers United Methodist Church, one of three rural churches on a pastoral charge in northeastern North Carolina, I learned from seasoned Christians that mission engagement is a means of grace.  They, of course, learned it from their forebears who learned it from our spiritual parents, Suzannah and John and Charles Wesley. 

At Christmas, we visited those who were elderly and those who were sick.  In the fall, we visited homes, collecting money for children in need.  In Sunday school and worship, we learned that God loves cheerful givers, that God honors hospitality and generosity.  We learned that faith is empty without witness.  I later learned the terms "personal holiness" and" social holiness."

Our life was not perfect, of course.  We were, however, headed toward the perfection that only God can give, the holiness that is a work of the Holy Spirit in us.

I am told that "all" was Charles Wesley's favorite word,  I am convinced this is true.  My favorite Wesley hymn is witness to the resonant "all":

Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down.
Fix in us thy humble dwelling, all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure unbounded love thou art!
Visit us with thy salvation, enter every trembling heart!

"All" and "every" - favorite Wesleyan words - favorite Biblical words.  God will not stop until this entire creation is renewed and redeemed. 

I choose the UMC again in this moment.  We are the people who embrace God's "all."  We are the people who answer with confidence the question, "Who is Jesus?"   We sing, with joy, "Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure unbounded love thou art!"  And we pray, "Visit us with thy salvation, enter every trembling heart!"

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward serves the North Carolina Conference after serving the Mississippi Conference 2004-2012.  She is the president of the General Board of Global Ministries and of JustPeace.  She and her spouse Mike are partners in Christ's mission, particularly with the young.