I have never seriously considered leaving Methodism. I have struggled at times being one – whether it was back in my younger days when I saw ‘flaming liberals’ around every corner to my single days in my 20s. Southern Baptist churches seem to corner the market on singles groups. (This is to their credit – they see a need and look to meet it. Methodist churches in Britian and America have not really figured out how to tap into this. Over here for different reasons, though.) Still, I tried them out for a while, but I think that’s where I realised I just didn’t fit in there. Thankfully, Trenholm Road UMC had started a young adults Sunday school class called the 20s group (we were adamant we were NOT a singles class, even if all of us were). That’s where I met April. That is where I felt I fit in. I was 25, and I had always held my membership at my home church, so TRUMC was the first church I made my church home on my own. From then on, it seemed everything else confirmed my decision. What is it, then, that has caused me to want to stay in Methodism (generally)?
- Dance with the one who brought you. This may be the simplest, but most influential. I have been a Methodist all my life. The photo I posted on Monday of April and me standing in front of a church was taken on the day I graduated from Duke Divinity School and three months before beginning my first appointment in England. Some of my friends and I celebrated graduation with our families with a lunch at a church that happened to be next door. I found my dad outside looking at this church and he said, I think that’s where you were baptised. My mom confirmed it was. That story has just always seemed to make sense: a church I had never heard about but where I began the journey that led to where I was that day – preparing for ordained ministry.
- Theological Elbow Room. As I have grown in my own faith, I have discovered that those I once branded ‘liberals’ have helped me to grow. Whilst I believe my faith handed down to me by my parents and evangelical tradition is all still there, I have grown from those who believe differently than I do. Methodism in the US and Great Britain seems to hold this tension together quite well. I have generally found a commitment to scripture even from those I disagree with whilst at the same time learning I don’t have to jettison everything I believe because I no longer hold to a notion of inerrancy. (OK, I will admit that some of what I hear coming out of the western jurisdiction continues to concern me – I am still quite conservative in many ways!)
- Commitment to Equality. OK, we don’t get this right all the time, and I am a white male who has not had to suffer discrimination, so I may not be the one to say anything. But, whilst conservative renewal organisations in other denominations (e.g., the Anglican tradition) have as part of their movement a removal of women clergy, the renewal movements in the UMC and British Methodist Church (the Confessing Movement, Good News, and MET) are supportive of women in ministry. Women in ministry is something we do not have to fight for at a national level (but, we do at the local level).
- Commitment to Social Justice. Had it not been for the more ‘liberal’ wing of the church, I would not have even bothered with this. Saving souls with some charity work was good enough for me in my younger days. My understanding of what it means to evangelise grew. This also led to an understanding that sin can run at a systemic level and not just individual level.
- Flexibility in Worship. This is more from the British perspective. I don’t mean that every church is flexible (I know some that can be quite rigid), but in trying to plan ecumenical services with Anglicans, the process can be stressful and many seem to look more like Anglicans services where the Methodists have been invited along. Methodism has no governing rules as to what must be done in a service.
- Wesleyan Heritage. All of the above could be said to grow out of Wesley’s understanding of the Christian life. God wants to reach out to ALL people. God will then transform your life (holiness) at the personal and social level. His belief that all Christians needed to be committed disciples and use the means of grace (sacraments, bible study, small group accountability). He worked hard at the paradox of faith and works, trying to find the right balance. OK, so we don’t always know what to do with his doctrine of perfectionism, but at a basic level, Wesley believed that God wanted to save us from sin so that we might be like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
This sums up what I like about Methodism in general, and what I have found to be more or less true on both sides of the Atlantic. These are the reasons why I feel at home in both expressions of Methodism.