Monday, January 25, 2016

Essentials for Mission in a World Wide United Methodist Connection

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
General Secretary
Commission on Archives and History, 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Grace Upon Grace

From the fullness of Christ, we have received grace upon grace.  

United Methodists are people of grace:  we receive grace, we experience grace, we celebrate grace, we embody grace, we offer grace.  We know grace to be powerful, a force for transformation.  We believe in the power of grace:  unconditional love that has changed our lives, unrelenting love that will change the world.

What is a Methodist?  Our forebears said clearly that a Methodist is one who loves God completely - with heart and mind and soul and strength - and who loves another as much as self.  This is our deepest identity.  We are people of responsive love.  God has so loved us that we adore God as we love one another.  

Our worldwide connection is called to bear the love of God gracefully.  We are called to listen well, to give space for others, to give up insisting on our way, to humbly abide in servant love.  We do not need to control one another, to change one another, to reform or redeem one another.  We trust that God is forming and reforming us all.

Jesus Christ never let go of love as mode, as motivation, as strategy.  As faithful Christians in the Wesleyan tradition, we cherish the way of Jesus:  holy embodiment of divine, redeeming, reconciling love.

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
United States
Southeastern Jurisdiction
Raleigh Episcopal Area

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Our Missional Imperative

Happy New Year!!!  

It’s hard to believe that 2016 is now upon us!  We are less than 5 months away from General Conference 2016.  As many of us become anxious with anticipation for this grand gathering of United Methodists from around the world, let us continue to be centered in on WHY we do what we do for the sake of building the Body of Christ in the world today.  Laceye Warner reminds us that “the emergence of Methodism in America is commended for its heritage as a renewal movement, particularly the claim that Methodism developed from a missional imperative rather than from doctrinal disputes…”  (The Method of Our Mission: UM Polity and Organization) Reclaiming the “missional imperative” has been at the heart of our work as a connection over the past several decades as we have focused in on the mission of “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. (and believing that) Local Congregations are the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.”

With so many challenges in our world today like the refugee crisis across the world, violence and terror erupting in so many places (both known and unknown), natural disasters (related to climate changes) wiping away people’s lives and the inequity of wealth and resources that permeate our cultural ethos there is no shortage in work to be done for God’s mission in the world.  In fact, one of our Agency Researchers, Derrick Hodges from GCORR, recently reminded us that the Pew Research on the religious landscape in the US notes that the populations of the working-class and the poor are increasing with so many of the previously named factors affecting their lives.  In early Methodism, these groups were at the heart of our movement.  John, Charles and Francis made it their missional imperative to be in the fields and in the streets with those with the greatest needs.   

The question for United Methodists today is: How will we come together to unite with one another so that Christ may use us to transform people’s lives around the world?  General Conference is the place where we are being called forth as faithful Disciples to demonstrate how 12 1/2 million people called United Methodist can be the Body of Christ and make a difference throughout the world.

There is a missional imperative for us NOW!  People need to know of God’s grace and love!  People need to experience the transforming power of Jesus Christ!  People need to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as they face the trials and tribulations of this world today.  Let us not be lukewarm in our sharing of God’s love.  I pray that each and everyone of us will passionately proclaim the hope that Christ offers all of us from the many places in our connection where God has called us and especially at General Conference 2016!  The Shepherds and the Wise men went and told the world of the good news that God has come among us!  That is the Epiphany Story!  Let us join them and remind United Methodists around the world that God is with us AND calls us to “Therefore, go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19)

Our work is not yet done.  

The Council of Bishops have committed to 131 days of prayer starting January 1, 2016 in preparation for General Conference.  Each Annual Conference across our connection has been invited to host a 24-hour prayer vigil on a specific date, with the intent of creating a shower of prayer in the days leading up to General Conference.  Take time to see when your Annual Conference will be holding their vigil for GC2016 and join in the call to prayer for the sake of God’s work through the people called United Methodist.

-Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, Ph.D.
Executive Secretary 
The Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church