Monday, July 29, 2013

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 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.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dawn Wiggins Hare: Why UMC

I am Dawn Wiggins Hare, an attorney and former judge, and I serve as General Secretary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.  My "official" service with The United Methodist Church began in January of 2013, when I began my role as General Secretary, but my work with and for the church began much earlier.  The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is one of the thirteen General Agencies of The United Methodist Church and our mission is to work for the full inclusion of all women within The United Methodist Church, seeking to support all women in ministry-both clergy and laity.

In 1976, Dr. Ed Hardin was the minister at First United Methodist in my home town of Brewton, Alabama.  I had just started college and was pursuing a double major in math and theatre with a minor in music.  I was lucky enough to have the lead role in a musical and Dr. Hardin saw my performance.  He came to my parents' hardware store where I worked after classes and asked if the church could hire me to sing alto in the choir for the summer.  I was flattered but I couldn't imagine getting paid to sing at church.  After telling my parents (who met through their love of music, my dad sang with Eddie Fisher in the army and my mother played piano for a gospel quartet), I said "yes" and I have been with The United Methodist Church ever since. 

Although I had been in church all my life and reared in a wonderful church (not Methodist), the teachings of The United Methodist Church based on a theology of grace (not guilt) were music to my soul.  But there was more.  The United Methodist Church, even in 1976, recognized the importance of women as Christian leaders and ventured to ordain women.  Imagine that!  Across town and across the creek (literally), from my new home church, the Reverend Jean Spikes served at East Brewton United Methodist Church.  As a young woman who was blessed to be born to loving parents who stressed the equality of their three daughters and their one son, to my young adult eyes here was equality in action by the church.

When my husband Chip and I married, Monroeville, Alabama became my adopted home and First United Methodist our church home.  Monroeville is considered the literary capital of Alabama as it is home to Nelle Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Ms. Lee is a wonderful lady, but it was her older sister Miss Alice Lee, a devoted United Methodist who was the first woman to lead the Alabama West-Florida delegation to a General Conference, who became my mentor both in the legal community and in the church.  Miss Alice tapped me into leadership in the church.  Again, I was blessed to see equality in action at the church with women leaders and husband and wife co-pastors, the Reverends Libba and Judd Stinson.  Here was a church where as a woman, I felt at home and welcomed to serve in a leadership capacity.

What began as a ministry through music grew into a deep appreciation of the hope for the teachings and traditions that have helped form The United Methodist Church and the mission of the church to create disciples for Jesus Christ "for the transformation of the world."  The church has been my community, my family, and the nurturers of my sons, Nicholas and Eli. The women and men of the church such as the Rev. Pam Barnhardt, the Rev. Thomas Lane Butts, the Stinsons, and many others have guided my family’s faith journey.  But my local church is but one chord in this wonderful symphony of a connection of Methodism that serves in places that we cannot go, teaches in languages that we cannot speak, serves those whom we will never meet, and ministers in ways that we cannot even imagine.  My mission and that of my commission is to work for the full inclusion of all women so that we will truly "transform the world."  No woman and no man should be denied a leadership position at any level of church service because of her or his gender.  The great commission gives us lots of work to do and we need everyone working side by side.

Several years ago, I sat down during an Ash Wednesday service and was challenged to pray for someone with whom I had issues, someone with whom I was angry, someone who did not like me, someone who had hurt me, someone who had shown evil towards me.  We were told to write the name on a piece of paper and that the pieces of paper would be burned with the palms for the next years’ service.

Every day I prayed for the person on my paper, a very mean person who had hurt me.  It was not easy.  It was not fun.  But it was transformative.  Sometimes I prayed at home.  Sometimes I prayed in the chapel.  Sometimes I prayed in the sanctuary.  Sometimes I prayed driving down the road.  After 40 days of finding a way to pray for healing for that person and for my own healing, I arrived at Easter with a spirit of forgiveness and my obsession with this person lifted from my shoulders.

Do I believe in prayer?  You bet I do.  Do I believe that we must forgive others to be forgiven?  I truly do.  Do I consider the church, my church, the United Methodist Church to be my rock?  Yes, and I will sing it in an alto voice from the choir loft of First United Methodist Church Monroeville, Alabama, to the rafters of First United Methodist Church in the Chicago Temple in Chicago, Illinois, and everywhere in between.    

Dawn is an attorney, mediator, and former Circuit Judge who has been an active member of the Alabama West-Florida Conference, serving as a delegate for the last two General Conferences, and receiving the 2012 Alice Lee Award. Dawn and her husband Chip have two sons, Nicholas and Eli.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Rev Karen Greenwaldt - Reflections on Being a United Methodist

Searching through ‘historic’ files always brings surprises. Over the weekend, I found my baptismal certificate. I didn’t remember that I had it. As I read it, I discovered that Mom and Dad made certain that I was baptized 3 1/2 months after my birth. I don’t remember that day. Yet, this certificate and an accompanying picture remind me of my baptism and the promises my parents and church members made to ‘bring me up’ in a Christian home and in the Church.

As a young child, I made a profession of faith and joined the church. I recall that Sunday and the dress I wore. More importantly, I remember saying that I would be ‘loyal to the Methodist Church and that I would uphold it with my presence, prayers, gifts and service’.

All along the way, my parents, my pastor (who also was my Dad), adults in each church where we lived, and family and friends taught me the Christian faith. They schooled me in Wesleyan theology, practices, and patterns of faith. They invited me to worship, to study the Bible, to pray, to sing the hymns of faith, to participate in the sacraments, and to live daily as a follower of Jesus Christ.

When I began to question various things about the Christian faith, my questions were honored, and deep and rich conversations occurred. Other people invited me to come to their churches, and I did visit other places (including a synagogue). The prevailing internal response after each of these visits was the same – I preferred to be a Methodist.

I continue to choose to be a United Methodist. Our church’s theology, patterns of worship, daily and seasonal practices of faith speak to my understandings of who God is and who God calls me to be. My heart and mind resonate with John Wesley’s invitation to hold in tension vital piety and social holiness. I thrive in a church that helps me discover the ongoing invitation of God’s grace and presence in my life. The General Rules of the church affect the choices that I make daily. I struggle with the rule to ‘do no harm’ as I realize that harm is often done in the midst of seeking ‘to do good’. I engage seriously the faith disciplines that call for daily and weekly attention to prayer, Bible reading, worship, living justly, participation in the sacraments, and other practices of faith.

I believe that United Methodists offer to the world a perspective on faith and faithful living that no other denomination has. Boiled down to the essentials of who we are as United Methodists, the phrase ‘my grace is sufficient for thee’ claims my allegiance to God. My daily decisions focus my life as I practice the means of grace and live a life that balances social holiness, vital piety and Mr. Wesley’s General Rules.

While I was born into this Church, I choose to be United Methodist. To quote Dr. Randy Maddox, this faith given to me and now personally claimed is in “my bones”. I AM United Methodist and can be no other.

An ordained elder from the Central Texas Conference, Rev. Karen Greenwaldt served as Associate General Secretary of GBOD’s Discipleship Ministries Division and as Director of Young Adult, Single Adult and Church Leader Development Ministries prior to her election to General Secretary in 2001. Karen is a bead and fabric artist specializing in art dolls, art quilts, beaded boxes, beaded flowers and jewelry.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Bishop James Dorff - Why I'm a United Methodist Today

I am a United Methodist today for two reasons.  I can explain one in fairly short order.  The other takes a bit more unpacking.

            First, I am a United Methodist today because I've been one all my life, and I am not about to change now.  I was born into a parsonage family; graduated from high school; attended a United Methodist university; then to a United Methodist seminary; then on to my first full-time appointment.  I've been at work ever since. I was born a Methodist.  I will die a United Methodist. Simplistic and shallow?  Perhaps, but true.

            Second, I am a United Methodist today because I observe and experience the presence and working of the Holy Spirit among us.  Not everywhere, not all the time, but often and unmistakably.  In my current corner of the church, I see committed faithful persons—lay and clergy—engaged in life-changing ministries.  Their lives are being changed and the lives of those they encounter are being changed.

            Sacrificial leadership is being offered at every level of the church. Not by everyone, not all the time, not perfectly, but faithfully.  I am continually humbled and awed to witness it and experience it.  The risen Christ is among us.

            Believe it or not, there are United Methodists all over the connection that are urgently seeking the will of the Spirit and are anxiously, expectantly, and courageously following after it. There are some individuals, churches, and institutions near literal and/or spiritual death.  But many of those folks— churches and institutions—are earnestly seeking new life, while at the same time being willing to accept death as a part of life.  I have even seen large groups of faithful people be willing to offer themselves up for institutional death in order for new life to emerge.  Wow!

            We United Methodists can be a committed, thoughtful, faithful and Spirit-filled bunch of folks, though not all of us all the time.  But many of us are some of the time.  I have seen it and experienced it myself.  I am not ashamed to say that my United Methodist brothers and sisters have brought me to tears more than once, recently.

            The United Methodist Church is in the process of transforming itself and the world into Christ's likeness.  It is a work in progress. The Spirit is leading us, I do believe.

            To tell you the truth, the Spirit is continuing to transform ME, through the United Methodist Church. I want it, I need it, I am a work in progress and I can't stop now.  Thanks be to God for the United Methodist Church!

Jim Dorff

Bishop Dorff is the resident bishop of the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Annual Conferences. Dorff serves on the Board of Trustees of the Methodist Mission Home of San Antonio, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, the Texas Methodist Foundation, and the World Methodist Council.  He also serves on the Board of Trustees of Africa University, Southern Methodist University, Southwestern University, Huston-Tillotson University, Lydia Patterson Institute, and the Executive Board of Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.