The Bishop Melvin Talbert and Nico Romeijn-Stout.
Musings & Younger Perspectives
Take Now Authority
By Nico Romeijn-Stout | Photos by Pippa Mpunzwana and Jesse N. Love
I am writing this article while sitting in my room in the Theology House of Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH): a room with a view of Charles River, in a house full of deep learning and rich conversation.
Given my current location, and status as a seminarian, I feel a bit compelled to offer up some deep and scholarly insight. My insight to offer today, however, comes from a collection of learning moments found outside the classroom – as so many of our deepest learning moments are. My train of thought was begun by listening to Bishop Melvin Talbert, a retired UMC bishop who once served The Pacific Northwest Conference. Bishop Talbert was here at BUSTH during the week-long celebration of the life, message, and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was invited in part to share about his work within the United Methodist Church towards full inclusion. As he was speaking, he brought up the words a bishop tells each clergy person when that person is ordained – words that have great and broad significance: “take now authority.”
What a charge! What words to live up to! In the Methodist tradition, we give great authority and responsibility to our clergy, but these words – take now authority – leave me wondering, what authority do we entrust to the laity? What charge is given to the whole church? In outlining his charge reflecting what the church should be for the future of the UMC, the Rev. Dr. Robert A. Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, underscores the vital need of the church to recognize two groups, saying: “Gay people are people. Lay people are people.” I fully agree with Dean Hill on this point. While it would be easy to elaborate more on issues of the UMC’s inclusion of the LGBTQ community, I feel that our attention here needs to remain on the larger body – laity as a whole, both gay and straight.
When a lay person joins the church, he or she is asked if they will support the church with their “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” This question may not have quite as much zing to it as telling someone to “take now authority,” but there is still great power and responsibility, which comes with answering ‘yes’ to that question. Are we, as members of the church, living up to it?
Jon Stewart says “No.” In an episode of The Daily Show from 2010 Stewart calls Methodism “the University of Phoenix of religions. You send them fifty bucks and click ‘I agree’ and you’re saved.” Ouch.
Stewart’s critique was not new in 2010, nor has it disappeared since. In June of 2012 Kevin Alton published an article on the Youth Worker Movement’s website titled “Just Another Lazy Methodist.” Alton writes that we, as Methodists, have gained a reputation for being an easy denomination to belong to. “You don’t have to do anything.” But, he argues, it’s not easy to be a real Methodist. Being a real Methodist is hard because:
- Real Methodists live in community.
- Real Methodists live lives dedicated to mission.
- Real Methodists are never done.
- Real Methodists know and love scripture.
- Real Methodists aren’t Methodists just because they don’t want to be a member of [some other] denomination.
Alton elaborates on each point, but I think you get the message. Methodism shouldn’t be easy, if for no other reason than because being Christian is not easy. Jesus’ message and charge to us, as disciples, is in no way easy. It is radical. It can get messy and unpopular. And we as a called people of Christ-followers are called to present that message to the world.
John Wesley’s legacy, in the people called Methodists, is similarly difficult. Just take a moment to think about this Wesleyan idea: there is no holiness but social holiness.
Now, remember your baptism, remember your membership vows (if you’ve taken them), and take the authority you have as a Christ-follower and tell someone about it.
Romeijn-Stout is a grad student at Boston University.
Encounters with John Wesley (D4001)