Exercising the Discipline of the Whole Church

I learned two things about The United Methodist Church before I ever dreamed of one day becoming a United Methodist pastor. First, when a large United Methodist church in Connecticut hired me to be their part-time Director of Music while I was pursuing a graduate degree in sacred music, I said to myself after a few months, “I love the people of the United Methodist Church! They are faithful and fruitful, and they were willing to take a risk and hire a kid like me to shepherd their music program.” I stayed for five years.

Second, two District Superintendents traveled to Yale Divinity School to visit Gary during his last year as he was preparing for his first appointment in Michigan. Then they turned to me and said, “Laurie, we know that you are pursuing ordination in the General Conference Mennonite Church, but if you ever want an appointment in the West Michigan Conference, just let us know! We’d love for you to be one of our pastors.”

I never forgot their gracious invitation and eventually took them up on the offer, receiving my first appointment in Michigan as a pastor in good standing of another denomination. Six years later, I transferred my ordination credentials from the General Conference Mennonite Church to The United Methodist Church.

It was because of the graciousness of the Cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry of The West Michigan Conference that I am a United Methodist today. The United Methodist Church is not an insular denomination, closed in on itself and unwilling to embrace other religious groups. In fact, United Methodists are on the forefront of ecumenical and interfaith relationships, as we seek to work together to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

  • Did you know that there are 24 pastors from other denominations who are serving under appointment in United Methodist local churches in Iowa? Additionally, there are four pastors serving from other Methodist denominations.
  • Did you know that there are 23 yoked/union/federated/multi-point charges in Iowa, which means that one or more of the churches is United Methodist and the other is of a different denomination? All but one are located in small towns or rural settings.
  • Did you know that the United Methodist Church has an Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, which is located in the Council of Bishops Office in Washington D.C.? The staff includes a part-time Ecumenical Officer, who is a retired bishop, an Ecumenical Staff Officer for Leadership Development, and another Ecumenical Staff Officer for Faith and Order and Theological Development.

Episcopal leaders in The United Methodist Church are mandated to lead the denomination in ecumenical and interreligious ministry. When new bishops are consecrated, these words are shared during the examination of episcopal candidates, “You are called to guard the faith, to seek the unity, and to exercise the discipline of the whole church; and to supervise and support the church’s life, work and mission throughout the world. These are high and holy callings.”

The Book of Discipline 2016 also emphasizes our call to share Christ’s love throughout the world by partnering with other religious groups.

  • “The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ”. (UMC Constitution, Article IV 4 “Inclusiveness of the Church”)
  • “Christian unity is founded on the theological understanding that through faith in Jesus Christ, we are made members-in-common of the one body of Christ. Christian unity is not an option; it is a gift to be received and expressed.” (Our Theological Task: Ecumenical Commitment, ¶105 BOD 2016)
  • “In the name of Jesus Christ, we are called to work within our diversity while exercising patience and forbearance with one another. Such patience stems neither from indifference toward truth nor from an indulgent tolerance of error but from an awareness that we know only in part and that none of us is able to search the mysteries of God except by the Spirit of God.” (The Present Challenge to Theology in the Church, ¶105 BOD 2016)
  • “The Church expects the Council of Bishops to speak to the Church and from the Church to the world and to give leadership in the quest for Christian unity and interreligious relationships.” (¶ 422.2, BOD 2016)

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From the very beginning of the Methodist movement, we have been in relationship with Christians of other denominations in order to exercise the discipline of the whole church, and John Wesley was always eager to dialogue with other Christian groups. Even when Wesley disagreed firmly with those of different beliefs, he always wanted to stay in relationship.

United Methodists lead the way in ecumenism. United Methodist clergy almost always participate in local ecumenical/clergy organizations. The UMC also has formal, full communion relationships with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, AME Zion Church, African Union Methodist Protestant Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Uniting Church of Sweden, The Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, and The Moravian Church, Northern and Southern Provinces.

Here are other resources and ways to exercise the discipline of the whole church.

  • “One in Spirit,” An Ecumenical Curriculum for Local Congregations” (six-week study)
  • UMEIT (United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Trainings) There are different types of training resources, including for youth and young adults.
  • United Methodist Ecumenism 101 Brochure
  • The United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church have completed a proposal for full communion, A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness, which will be voted on at the 2020 General Conference.
  • The staff of the Council of Bishops and the General Board of Church and Society have partnered together to begin a new interfaith scriptural study group in The United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. The study is using a practice called Scriptural Reasoning, which is a tool for inter-faith dialogue where people of different faiths come together and read and reflect on their scriptures.

In a country and world that seems increasingly polarized, it is more important than ever that United Methodists exercise the discipline of the whole church by engaging their neighbors of different denominations and religions in common ministry. May all Christians together use this prayer from the Book of Common PrayerGracious God, we pray for thy holy catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.(William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645)

The Church I Long For Is …

It was a profound and holy moment. At the end of our orders gathering last Tuesday, we were asked to fill in the blank, “The church I long for is …” Prayerfully and humbly, 170 clergy voices around the sanctuary shared their hopes and dreams for our beloved United Methodist Church.

The church I long for is …
    Grace-filled
        Courageous
            Strong
                Hopeful
                    Infused with the Holy Spirit

We spent the day using a process developed by Bishop Ken Carter and the Florida Annual Conference called Point of View (POV). It’s a way of engaging in holy conversation around human sexuality by developing empathy, understanding, and compassion for one another. Our leader was Rev. Magrey deVega, who is the senior pastor of Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, Florida. Rev. deVega was a perfect facilitator for us because for eight years, from 2007-2015, he was the pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Cherokee, Iowa.

POV gatherings attempt to create an alternative to the divisive spirit both in our culture and in the church by operating under the presupposition that we need each other to accomplish the mission of The United Methodist Church. Three drivers of Point of View are:

  • Empathy: seeing and listening from the perspective of another person.
  • Context: having a broader understanding of what factors shape our own views and the views of others.
  • Generative dialogue that encourages people of varied convictions to flourish together.

How we might develop a common missional approach for all people to grow as disciples of Jesus regardless of their differences?

The church I long for is …
    Humble
        Open
            Leading by example
                Curious
                    Centered around the table of the Lord

One of the most helpful parts of the day was our dialogue around empathy. Empathy can be defined as “the act of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.” The Point of View process emphasizes the importance of feeling connection with others, seeing the other’s perspective, and offering no judgment. Empathy does not try to make things better but rather seeks understanding. Click here for a brief video by Brené Brown on empathy.

When we take the time to discern the various positions on human sexuality and put ourselves in the place of the people who hold those views, we develop a heart of peace, not a heart of war. But more than that, we have an opportunity to show the world how different perspectives can be part of the same church.

The church I long for is …
    Steeped in the teaching and example of Jesus
        Reaching out
            Always climbing into the hole with others
                Transforming lives
                     Giving itself away

In order to create the church we long for, we will all have to become better listeners. One of the values of the Commission on a Way Forward gatherings that are taking place around our United Methodist connection is hearing the voices of others around human sexuality. At our POV clergy gathering last week, we learned how to be better listeners by focusing on the person who is talking and not simply rehearsing our own response. When we insist on sharing our own worldview first, without seeking to understand the hurts, hopes, and frustrations of the person(s) with whom we are engaging, we limit our effectiveness in connecting others with Jesus.

The church I long for is …
    Witnessing
        Risk-taking
            Visionary
                Joyful
                    Always going to the margins

The most challenging questions were near the end of our day together, when we were asked to discern:

  • What areas do I need to confess where I have missed the mark?
    I thought of the Historic Questions (BOD, ¶330.5.d) asked of clergy seeking admission into full connection in The United Methodist Church, knowing that I need to continually challenge my own faith and practice.

    • Have you faith in Christ?
    • Are you going on to perfection?
    • Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
    • Are you earnestly striving after perfection in love?
    • Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and God’s work?

  • If I were to act out of my bravest self, what would I do next?
    • Keep listening to God and others
    • Keep making disciples
    • Keep modeling the grace and love of Jesus
    • Keep encouraging difference making
    • Keep surrendering and giving myself away
    • Keep building bridges and seeking understanding

What is the church you long for?

The Key to Liberty

The key to liberty? The right to vote. The midterm elections are almost upon us. Four hundred and seventy seats in the U.S. Congress (35 Senate seats and all 435 House seats) are up for election on November 6. Not to mention local and state elections all around the country. The rhetoric is fierce, political commercials dominate the airwaves, and negative campaigning abounds in both parties.

Nevertheless, the right to vote is the key to liberty and a democratic society. My hope and prayer is that every American who is eligible will either vote by absentee ballot or show up at their polling location on November 6. Gary and I sent in our absentee ballots last week because we will be at the Council of Bishops meeting on November 6.

Did you know that in 1776, the official beginning of the United States, voting was controlled by individual state legislatures? Only white males age 21 and older who owned land were allowed to vote. Almost a hundred years later, in 1870, the 15th amendment to the Constitution eliminated racial barriers to voting for males. However, women and Native Americans were still denied the right to vote. In addition, poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud, and intimidation prevented many from voting who were eligible.

I have become fascinated with the story of the fight for women’s voting rights in America because the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution will be upon us in 1920. I am particularly interested because in 1920, my grandmother was 28-years-old. She was a bit of a rebel, and I regret that I never had a chance to ask her what she thought about the right of women to vote. I would encourage you to read Elaine Weiss’ 2018 book, The Women’s Hour; The Fight to Win the Vote, which tells the story of the fierce battle that ensued in Nashville TN, the battleground of the 19th amendment.

In the 19th century, women began advocating for the abolition of slavery in the south. Lucretia Mott founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and led the delegation of women to the 1840 World AntiSlave Convention in London. In 1848, Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton decided to call a convention for women’s rights at a Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls NY, with assistance from former slave and great friend to women, Frederick Douglass. Weiss summarizes Douglass’ arguments, “The ballot is the guarantor of all other rights and the key to liberty.” Three hundred women showed up, and a suffrage resolution was passed by a small minority.[i]

Full voting rights for women were still many years away, however. In 1920, after 72 years of constant advocating, women became more confident and assertive and enjoyed more opportunities, yet they were still second-class citizens. The struggle of women was not only political, but it was moral, social, cultural, and religious as well. Wealthy, powerful men were threatened by the courage of women, and pastors often condemned women from the pulpit for their boldness in speaking out. In addition, racism and sexism were intertwined in the struggle for the vote.

©Paul Thompson/Getty Images

Momentum for women’s voting rights continued to build during the first two decades of the 20th century. In 1919, the 19th amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote, passed the U.S. House and Senate. Now it had to be ratified by two-thirds of the state legislatures in order to go into effect.

36 states were needed to ratify the 19th amendment, and by the summer of 1920, 35 states had approved it. Tennessee now became the battleground for one of the greatest fights in US history: the right of women to vote. If the Tennessee legislature ratified the 19th amendment (popularly called the Susan B. Anthony amendment, after another great social reformer and women’s rights activist), 23 million women would be eligible to vote in the November 1920 presidential election.

Three different women’s organizations were in Nashville to advocate for their cause. “Antis” were against women’s suffrage, and “Suffs” were advocates for women’s right to vote. Carrie Chapman Catt was president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. Catt grew up as Carrie Lane and lived on a farm in Iowa. When Carrie was 13, she watched her father, brother, and their farmhands go off to town to vote. She also knew that her mother was smarter and had greater political instincts than any of them. Yet they were eligible to vote, and her mother wasn’t.

Catt graduated from Iowa Agricultural College and, at age 24, became the superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa. Eventually, Catt devoted her life to women’s voting rights and traveled the country advocating and organizing. The other “Suff” organization was the National Women’s Party. This radical wing of the suffrage movement was led by Sue White. Unfortunately, rather than cooperate and collaborate, the two suffrage organizations often competed against each other.

The third organization was the Tennessee Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, led by President Josephine Pearson. Their opposition to voting rights for women was based on arguments such as “Is the US ready for women to be equal citizens?” and “A woman’s place is in the home as wife and mother.” The men had their own arguments. “The Bible prohibits women from being in leadership over men.” “Women are too irrational, emotional, sentimental, and not intellectual enough.” “Only those who must bear arms should be allowed to vote.” And, “I’d rather see my daughter in a coffin than at the polls.”

On August 13, 1920, after intense lobbying on both sides, the Tennessee legislature affirmed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by a single vote, and women were given the right to vote. It was the Women’s Hour. On August 26th, the 19th Amendment entered the Constitution. Consider the next 64 years.

 

  • In 1924, Native Americans were given the right to vote.
  • The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteed that all men and women, 21 and older, could vote regardless of race, religion, or education.
  • In 1965, the Federal Voting Rights Act banned literacy tests and mandated translation of materials where there are a large number of non-English speaking citizens.
  • In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowered the voting age to 18.
  • In 1984, the federal Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act required polling places to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Women continue to make great strides as we approach the 100th anniversary of voting rights for women. We’re not there yet, however.

  • Women comprise 20% of the House and Senate.
  • Three of nine Supreme Court justices are women.
  • Women are presidents of 25% of American colleges and universities.
  • Women in ministry earn 20% less than male counterparts.
  • 17 of the 66 active United Methodist bishops are women.
  • In 1980, the first woman, Marjorie Matthews, was elected and consecrated as a bishop in The United Methodist Church. In 1984, the first African-American woman, Leontine T. Kelly was elected and consecrated as a bishop. In 2005, Rosemarie Wennerwas the first women to be elected bishop outside the United States. And in 2008, Joaquina Filipe Nhanala was the first woman to be elected bishop on the African continent and serves the Mozambique Episcopal Area.

Still today, the ballot is the guarantor of all other rights and the key to liberty. So, head for the polls on November 6 and let your voice be heard!

 

[i]Elaine Weiss, The Women’s Hour; The Great Fight to Win the Vote, 2018, Kindle edition, p. 50.