Monday, November 18, 2013

Rev. Harald Rückert: Why I Choose the United Methodist Church

The UMC in Germany – as in all other European countries – is a minority church. The Lutherans and Catholics are dominating in the public. Methodists, Baptists and others in Germany are small Christian churches, and were often suspected to be a sect.

My parents and grandmother were Methodists. They were proud of it and felt at home in this community. Unfortunately our church was located on the other side of town and therefore I could not participate in the children’s programs very often. Instead I went to the children’s Sunday School class of the Lutheran Church and became a boy scout in the YMCA – both just around the corner from where we lived. But in spite of that, there was no doubt: I am a Methodist!

This feeling became stronger when I entered the confirmation class in our Methodist Church. I found friends. I was invited to the trombone choir and had the opportunity to learn the trumpet. I was trained to lead a children’s group. I was allowed to play music with some friends on Sunday mornings - even rock music with my guitar! Our pastor and our youth leaders provided good biblical teaching. They laid a good foundation. I felt at home at church.

Some of my good YMCA friends were involved in the charismatic movement. They shared their experiences of the Spirit with me. For almost two years I tried to combine both: being a “sober” Methodist and being a sympathizer with the charismatic spirituality. Although I made some important experiences, it became very clear: This expression of faith does not fit me. Intentionally and with full conviction I became a confessing member of the UMC. There were people of all ages at church - I needed all of them. The UMC appeared to be a pious community - but at the same time very open-minded and sensitive for the needs of our world. There was a structure - but very much freedom at the same time. There were rules - but the needs of people were always more important. There were well educated pastors with a mature theology - but lay people contributed equally to the mission. There was a local church, small and far from being perfect – but it was part of a big worldwide family. Even at the age of 19 I had a good feeling for all of this.

Then I left my home town for university (I studied food chemistry before I was called to become a pastor). There was no Methodist Church at the new place. For that time I joined a small Mennonite congregation.

All of these ecumenical experiences, influences and contacts were enriching my spirituality. They did not threaten my Methodist identity. In fact they helped me to gain a clearer understanding of what it means to be a Methodist. I became proud of the gift to live within this church. Still I am passionate about our church, even though there was a lot of disillusion during my time as a district superintendent. But still I am curious how God will serve our world through the UMC in the future and I want to be part of this adventure.

Rev. Harald Rückert is pastor of a local church in Reutlingen, Germany South Annual Conference. Since 1992 he is member of the Central Conference of Germany. He was elected delegate to the 2008 and 2012 General Conferences. He held appointments in local churches and a church planting project. For 10 years he served as district superintendent. He is engaged in the leadership training programs for candidates and ordained ministers in his Central Conference. Complimentary he is chair of an addiction therapy institution of the Church.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rev Tim Rogers: Why I am a United Methodist

The United Methodist Church has been God’s agent of change in my life.  We frequently hear that we should get out of our comfort zone in order to grow.  Well, I like my comfort zone.  I am not happy when I have to leave it.  I am a small-town boy who resents change.  Little did I know that by answering the call to ordained ministry, and choosing to stay in the denomination I grew up in, that I had signed up for a lifetime of change.

I doubt that my experiences as a United Methodist pastor have been unique.  My first appointment came when the phone rang unexpectedly during my middler year in seminary. Two of my appointments have been to places that I could not identify on a map beforehand.  One was to the one place I told my wife we could never be appointed to.  One came with a question from the cabinet: would I like to? My answer: no I would not.  I served that appointment for seven years. I signed up to serve as a United Methodist clergy with the expectation that I would tend the faithful who would show up on my church’s doorstep.  I woke up one morning living in one of the largest mission fields in the world.

All of this change has led me to meet and work with many, many amazing people.  I have been blessed to work with men and women of all kinds of backgrounds from all sorts of places.  There have been brilliant thinkers, devoted servants, inspirational leaders, and – above all – genuine lovers of God.  Exposure to so many genuine servants of the Gospel has been a challenge to grow in my own life and faith.

Every step, unbidden and unplanned on my part, has been useful to God in the continual work of re-shaping my heart.  Every wound has been an opportunity for grace.  Every new work has been a challenge to grow.  Every defeat has been a tutor in the discipline of trust.  Every move from appointment to appointment has taught the transience of things and the value of relationships: relationships with people, and above all, my relationship with God.

Relationships with people become more astonishing with time.  There are a number of people who, for reasons that are not clear to me, love me.  Miracles happen.  My relationship with God becomes ever more central as the days pass by.  I have learned that I cannot live without a vital, daily relationship with God through Christ.  Or rather, life without faith in Christ is a kind of living death for me.

Like many of us, I did not fully understand all that I was agreeing to when I said “Yes” to God’s call to ordained ministry.  But it was the United Methodist Church that gave me a place to respond to that call.  And it has been the United Methodist Church that God has used to make, and re-make, and re-make my soul.  We call it sanctification.  It has not always been easy.  But it has been grace-filled.  I would not change it.

The Rev. Tim Rogers is a member of the South Carolina Conference and serves as the senior pastor of Mt. Hebron UMC. He has previously served as Conference Secretary and Coordinator of Clergy Services. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, he and his wife live in Lexington, SC. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bishop Jeremiah Jungchan Park: Why I am a United Methodist

Once a Methodist, a Methodist forever. That’s how I was born and raised. My father was a Methodist pastor in Korea and I was a Methodist before I was born. My Christian identity has never been separated from my identity as a Methodist in Korea and now a United Methodist in the U.S. it will never be.

I am a United Methodist because I affirm the spirituality, theology, practice, and tradition of Methodism. I wholeheartedly embrace the evangelistic zeal for making disciples of Jesus Christ and the missional passion for transforming the world. I believe in a healthy balance of personal holiness and public and corporate witness to social holiness, holding the two in harmony and tension. I believe in discipleship as a process. No one has arrived. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, everyone is on a journey of faith with God and with one another. All of us are encouraged and challenged to continue to grow, expand, and change in the understanding and practice of discipleship. I also believe in the connectional nature of the church. We are better together for ministry and are stronger together for mission. Together we can be more and do more as a church. I highly value the big tent image of the church. No one way of being or doing the church is perfect. There’s always room for all God’s people to be a part of our church.

I once expressed the vision of my church in these words: A truly inclusive, diverse, evangelistic, missional, healthy, and growing church, where people are accepted and affirmed as God’s children of sacred worth, confirmed and convicted as disciples of Jesus Christ, and commissioned and sent as ministers and missionaries of the Gospel.  I am a United Methodist because I believe that I have the best chance to be a part of the church of my dream in the United Methodist Church than in any other church. The world is facing ever-increasing diversity, demographic change, societal illness, conflict, humanitarian needs, and environmental crisis. Real and significant opportunities for life-changing and community-transforming mission and ministry are being created for such a time as this. I am a United Methodist because I believe that the United Methodist Church has the best means to make a difference in the world. God is not finished with our church yet.

Let me add an intensely personal reason why I am a United Methodist. It’s “grace”. I experience the width, the length, the height, and the depth of grace in the most incredible way through my journey as a United Methodist. I started my journey as a United Methodist when I immigrated to the USA 36 years ago. As the Resident Bishop of the Harrisburg Area, I now live in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, some 50 miles away from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is the birthplace of Korean Methodism. A young man named Henry G. Appenzeller, who was nurtured in a Methodist church in that place came to Korea in 1885 as the first missionary sent from the church now known as the United Methodist Church. Some 128 years later, there are over 5,000 Methodist churches with some 1.5 million Methodists in Korea. Here I am, a product of the Korean Methodist Church and a first generation immigrant, now serving as a United Methodist Bishop near the place where it all started. This amazing grace grabbed me only because I am a United Methodist. Why am I a United Methodist? What happened to me could only happen in the United Methodist Church. “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1Corinthians 15:10a). Being a United Methodist is an essential part of what I am, a swimmer in the sea of grace.

Bishop Jeremiah J. Park was elected to the episcopacy in 2004 and is currently serving in the Harrisburg Area after serving 8 years with the New York Area.  He became President of the General Commission on Archives and History in September 2012.  He has served as DS and Council Director for the Northern/Greater New Jersey Annual Conference as well as the associate director of the Multi-Ethnic Center for Ministry of the NEJ.