When serving as pastor at one of our denomination's primary Heritage Landmark's, Historic St. George's Church (1767), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I was often asked what history reveals about the heart and soul of a United Methodist. My current work with the General Commission on Archives and History, affirms what I said back then all the more:
United Methodists are people whose relationship with God is grounded in A THEOLOGY OF LOVE AND INCLUSION. The distinctive theological text of our tradition, our hymnal, is the Wesley brothers’ cover-to-cover tome to God's jaw-dropping, amazing, boundless, boundary-breaking, life-igniting ALL consuming, merciful, redeeming, perfect, perfecting and sufficient love. More than pen to paper or note to score, our forebears believed, sang and gathered in ways to make it plain that God's love is fully available and must be made accessible to EVERYONE.
United Methodists are people who EXPERIENCE God's love and are TRANSFORMED by the encounter. The Lay Leader in my home church, thought to be the congregation's model Christian, surprised everyone one day describing a fresh experience of spiritual renewal at work in his life; about faith moving from his head, where it had comfortably resided for years, to his heart, where he felt fervor as never before. All at once, that fire moved from head to heart, then to his hands and feet. From as far back as the Wesleys to this very moment, United Methodist DNA energizes the rational and doctrinal into the experiential, what John Wesley called "practical divinity." Our Book of Discipline's says: Our Theological Task is essentially practical. It informs individuals’ daily decisions and serves the church's life and work... incorporat[ing] the promises and demands of the gospel into our daily lives (The Book of Discipline, pg. 79).
United Methodists, propelled to put God's love into action become DIFFERENCE MAKERS. Grounded-in and experiencing the life-changing love of God, United Methodists can't sit still. The experience of "Amazing Grace" is dynamic. The Holy Spirit provides the energy. The United Methodist family album kept at the General Commission on Archives and History is chock-full of examples of Spirit-driven difference-makers. From the Wesleys, Otterbein, Albright and Boehm to Asbury, Allen and Hosier, from Francis Willard, William, Catherine Booth and Mary Mc Cleod Bethune to the Methodist-influenced Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Graca Machal, we have been and are witnesses in and to the world—in word and deed, personally and institutionally, collectively, spiritually, materially acting-out God's love demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
On the verge of another General Conference, thinking about essentials for mission in a world-wide United Methodist connection, here's a UMC DNA test: How will what we decide and do demonstrate grounding in God's boundless, boundary-breaking love? How will what we decide and do bring people to a awe-struck, heart-stirring life-changing experience of Jesus Christ? How will what we decide and do translate into a Spirit-filled, difference-making, invitation for those to whom God's love a stranger, bringing them to discover people called United Methodist, as godly, generous friends?
Rev. Alfred T. Day III
Commission on Archives and History,