Monday, March 25, 2013

Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger: Choosing The United Methodist Today

My favorite Methodist Episcopal Bishop is G. Bromley Oxnam. He was raised by a coal mining and church planting father, and a mother who was a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. As the family moved across the American West, Thomas Oxnam left a new Methodist Church building in each city. Mary read the Bible to Bromley daily, and spoke regularly about her temperance work.  Bromley would embody this mix of church planting and strong commitment to his belief throughout his life.

Bromley Oxnam was a man who stood up for his convictions. He started a church that served new immigrants to America in Los Angeles, joined labor unions on the picket line, and traveled to Russia during communism. Bromley believed that a forty-hour work week and end to child labor never would have come without church leadership.  Serving as President of the World Council of Churches he pushed for assistance in international health crises and wealth disparity. Bromley pushed every organization he served to challenge systemic social inequality. Bromley believed that we should serve God on our feet, rather than on our knees.

Bromley believed that actions rooted in his faith in Christ could change the world. He was someone who authentically lived out his beliefs in God, and for our world everyday.  When his political solidarity with poor and working class people got him labeled a communist, Oxnam never wavered in his faith.  He would stand before the House Of Un-American Activities Committees to challenge allegations that his work for social causes was not a sign of communism but a deep faith in Jesus Christ.   

Bromley Oxnam is one saint among many who have demonstrated a life driven by the desire to mirror Christ’s actions each day.  The United Methodist Church today continues to be full of passionate, world-changing people.  Today our risk-takers are missionaries serving around the world or young people entering our seminaries. We are made up of committed volunteers who join UMCOR at a disaster site, and help start food pantries in local churches. Faithful people who hold lobby meetings with congress people at the state and national level.  Courageous United Methodist who wage protests against unjust wars, unjust wages, or unjust exclusion of people to citizenship or church membership. People, who work to end poverty, provide health care for all, struggle to end environmental degradation, work to welcome all people- black, white, gay, straight, women, men, US citizen, undocumented people, republican or democrat- into the life of our church.

Through a history of prophetic stances in our Book of Resolutions and our Social Principles, United Methodists seeks to be active disciples in our church and world.  Our denomination continues a legacy of people who believe that God is not done with our world yet.  I choose to be a part of that hopeful and prophetic witness in our broken world.

Rachel Birkhan-Rommelfanger is a young adult seeking ordination through the Northern Illinois conference and has served at all levels of the global UMC. Rachel has participated in a variety of churches that were either on campus, multicultural, reconciling, large or small in Chicago, DC and Tennessee. She is currently the campus minister at the University of Maryland.

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.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rev. Kennetha J. Bigham-Tsai: Why I Choose to Be United Methodist Today

Vicki James* is a developmentally disabled, African-American woman who lives in a half-way house near, Milwood UMC, the church I pastor. She spends most of her days walking up and down the streets near our church, sometimes in near zero-degree temperatures. I found her walking one winter day wearing pajamas and a man’s coat that would not close because the zipper was broken.

Every Sunday morning Vicki comes to Milwood to worship. She comes early to share in muffins and coffee. During worship she sits on the aisle. A few Sundays ago, she stood up in the middle of worship to declare that it was her birthday. We stopped everything and sang to her.

Vicki lives on the margins of race, gender, ability and socio-economic status. She stands at the boundaries that separate those who have privilege from those who do not. Through her (and through people like her) comes God’s call to the Church to move from its privileged center to the margins and to reach out across boundaries and build community.

I am United Methodist today, because Methodism, from its inception, has always sought to do that. John Wesley reached across the boundaries of poverty and class to engage those on the margins of his society. Some of the early Methodist circuit riders in America reached across the boundaries of race and ethnicity to also engage those on the margins.

Of course, we have not always been successful with reaching across boundaries and engaging the margins. We have often failed in painful ways. There were the divisions within our precursor denominations over the issue of slavery. There was the creation of the Central Jurisdiction that segregated the faithful by race. There was Methodist participation in the massacre at Sand Creek and the marginalization of indigenous peoples around the world. And today we continue to struggle with engaging those we have pushed to the margins because of their sexuality.

We have had our failings as a denomination. We still have our failings. However, I can find no other place that is better equipped to engage the margins and cross boundaries than The United Methodist Church. That is simply because we have social justice written into our DNA. And that DNA compels us to cross boundaries. That DNA moves us to the margins where people like Vicki live.

The members of my local church are mostly white and middle class. Yet, they welcome Vicki. They feed her and give her coffee. I don’t know that they know what they are doing. But I do. They are reaching across boundaries. They are inching closer to the margins. They are in the busy intersection of justice and community to which the Gospel calls us. They are doing this with Vicki. They will be called to do this with others if they are to thrive.

And they will be called to do more. They will be called to relinquish privilege—the privilege of cherished traditions—the privilege of maintaining white cultural norms within the church—the privilege of complacency around issues of justice. They will be called to relinquish such privilege to erase boundaries. They will be called to relinquish such privilege to move from center to margin to build community. They will be called to do this as a local church. We are being called to do this as a denomination. I cannot imagine a more exciting time to be part of a denomination that is hearing and responding to that call.

*Name has been changed for identity protection.

Rev. Kennetha J. Bigham-Tsai is the Pastor of Milwood UMC Kalamazoo, Michigan and District Superintendent Elect for the Lansing District/West Michigan Annual Conference

Monday, March 4, 2013

Darryl Barrow: Why I Choose The United Methodist Church

I was born in Trinidad in the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago in the southern part of the island. I grew up Methodist having been born to a mother whose parents were people of faith; my grandmother being Methodist and my grandfather being Moravian. What a “strangely warm-hearted” experience from birth for me and I have enjoyed every moment of it! So why I choose United Methodist is uniquely because the Wesleyan DNA has always been in my veins! I love this church – her music, I grew up singing the songs of the faith in a family with musical giftedness for our sound theology and practical divinity laced in the rich lyrics of our Wesleyan hymns and songs. I love this church – her passion and vision to spread scriptural holiness across the land offering hospitality and grace to ALL! I love this church – her public witness for the social gospel, the prophetic word and her grace-filled call for personal holiness and constant cry of social justice for ALL. A call that will show itself anywhere and everywhere! I love this church – her striving as a church with a global reach and the thriving global nature of her mission, oh yes, that uniquely crafted word we call our “connectionalism” – that though we are many (nationalities, backgrounds, cultures, countries, languages) we are one! We are one in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I love this church we call The United Methodist Church because of her Call to Inclusiveness – that regardless of race, background, age, gender, marital status, economic status or sexual orientation, and even with her imperfection, to continue to find ways to be more open, welcoming, fully accepting and supporting of all people to enable them to participate more fully in the life of the church, the community and the world. I love this church – her ability to offer lay people a primary place of their ministry of leadership in sharing their own faith experiences and their passionate love for God and neighbor as they fulfill Christ’s mission in the world. I love this church – United Methodists in varied and many places here in the USA and around the world are increasingly unwilling to limit their lives to mere church involvement. They are arranging their lives around their convictions and taking to the streets. They are pressing forward! They are finding new ways of being and doing church and they are disruptive, creative and hopeful. I pray that this church I love will never be the same again at this critical juncture in our history as she fulfills the missional adventure that awaits her! Oh yes, I love this church – her food, her fellowship, her fervor! “O Love that will not let me go,” the love of God is in my heart for “the people called Methodists.”

Rev. Darryl R. Barrow serves as a district superintendent in the Upper New York Annual Conference of the Northeastern Jurisdiction.