A Declaration: Why I’m United Methodist

I was honored today to be part of the 30th Anniversary session of United Methodist Day at the Virginia General Assembly. Legislative advocacy is one way we can and should live what we say we believe as United Methodist, our holiness of heart and life. In the first session of today’s event, several powerful quotes from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu were shared including:

“I wish I could shut up, but I can’t, and I won’t.

On Saturday, we will have a Special Session of the Virginia Annual Conference to review the details of our denominational settlement as part of the bankruptcy proceedings for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Questions have been raised as to why churches that may have never had a BSA troop are being asked to fund part of the settlement. …We are a connectional church. In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, Tutu wrote:

“We are not responsible for what breaks us but we can be responsible for what puts us back together again. Naming the hurt is how we begin to repair our broken parts.”

Since VOICE is my word of intention for 2022, it’s time for me to share my declaration of why I am United Methodist. During his address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg on November 23, 2004, Tutu said,

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”

Thank you, April Casperson, Justin Coleman, Andrew Jarrell, Shandon Klein, Bud Reeves, Cory Smith, Molly Vetter, and J.J. Warren, for reminding me of the power of this UMC connection as we have talked about #BeUMC over the last few months! So, here’s why I’m United Methodist. For those of you who take the time to read my story, I invite you to share yours.

Why I’m United Methodist Martha Stokes, Virginia Conference Lay Leader

I grew up United Methodist. Actually, I was baptized Methodist in 1961 and confirmed United Methodist in 1972. A little bit happened in the life of the denomination between those years.

I must confess that it hasn’t been easy to stay United Methodist or even connected to the church. In my 61 years, I’ve experienced my share of unchristian-like behavior when we’ve quarreled over ministries (and ministers); when feelings have been hurt and hearts damaged; when we have forgotten that we, the people, are the church; and when we have failed to live as the people we claim to be – the people Jesus tried so hard to teach us to be. I’ve experienced the hurt and anger of being told as a young woman, eager to serve in the church, that I should not enter the ordained ministry because of my gender. I’ve lived through the highs and very dark lows of serving as a lay delegate to four General Conference sessions. I have questioned how we treat one another, how we forgive each other, and how we continue to grow as disciples of Jesus. I have been totally lost in my faith journey at times. Yet, the conclusion I’ve come to is that I wouldn’t be anything other than a United Methodist Christian.

I want to be United Methodist because we are not all expected to think alike. One of John Wesley’s quotes that I love comes from a letter he wrote in 1749 to a Roman Catholic. Wesley stated: “If we cannot as yet think alike in all things, at least we may love alike.” We have our basic affirmations, our foundational beliefs, which we share with all Christian communities, but with that comes a broad-mindedness to allow for dissenting opinions and differing values with the focus of always striving to live as Jesus modeled for us. We can’t come to understand each other unless we have built relationships that allow us to talk openly, feel safe, and be willing to set our own feelings aside to hear God’s call for ourselves and our church. My greatest desire for our church is that we truly live out more of this understanding in our conferencing, worship, and living.

Another thing that keeps me United Methodist is our understanding of grace. God’s grace has been with me from my first moment. No person can give it to me or take it away. A loving God cares for me no matter how undeserving I may be. Now, my job is to live like I believe it. Living in God’s grace requires that I show the unconditional love of God and model the teachings of Jesus in all that I do and say – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I choose to be United Methodist because we believe that we have a responsibility to live out our faith in the world. Our Wesleyan heritage continues to call us to be and to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in the realities of today’s society. We are challenged to show compassion to all people: from the poorest of the poor, to the amazingly wealthy; from those whose skin color or lifestyle or abilities are like ours, to those who are as far opposite as possible. It would be so much easier to simply deal with those who are like us, but that is not the calling of the Methodist tradition.

As we pray, study the Scriptures, worship, and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human need and work for justice in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love our neighbors. Our mission together is to use that love for all our neighbors to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Because of this, I know I am called to #BeUMC.

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