I can remember the first time that I stepped foot in a United Methodist Church. I grew up Episcopalian, so I had been used to a very “high church,” “smells and bells” kind of experience. You know. Those liturgical gymnastics kind of services (sit, kneel, stand, kneel, sit, stand…) The services that have the same repetition, with the same creeds and statements of who God is and what God has done.
I was introduced to “contemporary worship” later in my life when my husband and I tried to find a church that worked with our schedule (#churchshopping). Attending church as an adult is so much different than when you go as a child.
As a child, I went because I was driven there, literally, by my Mama every Sunday.
As an adult, I was driven by the void I felt in my life when I was facing the impending death of my grandfather.
As a child, I didn’t pay much attention to the sermon.
Now, as an adult, the sermon was everything. It meant something more.
As a child, the songs were just familiar songs we all sang.
As an adult, the lyrics were given new life and pierced my soul as the notes held me in a warm embrace of peace.
“Attending church as an adult is so much different than when you go as a child.”
In college, I got so busy with life and studying for my future career, trying to get into medical school that going to church was the first thing to go to the wayside. God honestly was always an “up there” kind of God to me. This was a message, whether intended or not, that pervaded my childhood and continued to my adulthood. I didn’t need to go to church because nothing was wrong and I was a good person. But when I found out Daddy had cancer, I started to recognize the hole within me.
Something was missing.
“Church became more than just the motions.”
I was miles away from my childhood home, but I felt a nudge to find a home within a church–going back home in a different way. For a few months, I would visit a variety of churches of varying denominations, every now and then (when my schedule and business would allow it, of course). Some of the preaching and singing were alright. Every now and then, we would run into a sermon that would make us want to immediately get out of the pew and run out of the door, warning all that passed by. Eventually, I found a United Methodist Church that was having services on Sunday evening. SCORE.
My husband and I went and we were welcomed warmly by the pastor who asked us our names (a first for us). I didn’t feel like a number. The music and singing stirred something within me for the first time in my life. Church became more than just the motions. The sermon spoke of using our own reason and experience to learn about God. It connected scripture to my everyday life. This wasn’t about an “up there” God. It was about a God that was with us. The pastor challenged me not to just take his word, but to read through the Bible myself… something I had never thought about doing, nor was told to do before… ever.
I had gone through the motions of church in my youth because I trusted Mama. I trusted the words she told me about God. How God loved me even when the world didn’t. But it stopped there. While my faith at the time was comforting, it was a surface faith. This new realization that I could read scripture myself and come to my own conclusions, my own interpretation, opened up a new world that I never imagined.
I was hooked.
“We may have experienced Good Friday in our broken structures but resurrection is stirring from the ground as our young people see new visions and our seasoned souls start dreaming new dreams.”
I learned more about the United Methodist Church and its mission to unite both the hearts and minds of people. My local Methodist church walked with me in my own spiritual journey as I faced the death of family members. I would learn about how the Church wasn’t just a local one, but a global one, working to transform lives around the world, both physically and spiritually. It was the first church that I felt the Holy Spirit’s presence. And it was through this United Methodist Church that I would find my calling as a pastor, a scholar, and a prophetic witness.
Regardless of its faults, I remain United Methodist because I see its potential beyond the here and now.
Through the movement of young people and those speaking out from the margins who cry out that we will no longer be silent about injustice, I see a reclaiming of the Spirit that set John Wesley’s heart aflame at Aldersgate. We may have experienced Good Friday in our broken structures but resurrection is stirring from the ground as our young people see new visions and our seasoned souls start dreaming new dreams.
God is creating something new. I feel it. And I want to partner in it.
As long as these embers of Spirit within this denomination still burn, I will continue to #BeUMC. The vision of a truly global, connectional church that values unity over uniformity, partnership over power, people over property, authenticity over show, the love of all God’s creation over hate and denial of personhood, and the embodying of the bold, subversive Christ over the mirroring of the empire that crucified him, is worth it.
May it be so.