Nancy Tam Davis, PNWAC Lay Leader
I may not be a fast or accomplished mountain climber, but I am persistent. I’ve been climbing for about 30 years. I didn’t realize I was climbing the first few years, more like wandering the forest. I barely noticed the incline. I knew I could turn back any time or stop and rest for long periods of time. But at some point the mountain learned my name and began to tease me forward and upward, one step at a time.
Feeling more accomplished, and even with a sense of pride, I reached the summit, only to realize it was just a foothill. The real mountain lay behind and above my climb. The mountain is called Methodism. It’s a LOT bigger than United Methodism and my journey has only begun. I do know that going back down is not an option, nor is staying where I am. The mountain knows my name and it calls me onward.
“I thought I knew Methodism; I’ve been a Methodist for 30 years…I was feeling pretty darn smug about it.”
I thought I knew Methodism; I’ve been a Methodist for 30 years. I know what our churches look like, from the traditional tower front, to the pews filled with grey haired seniors struggling to keep the church alive. I can recite the order of worship and predict that the coffee hour will last longer than the sermon. I know which issues will divide us and which will unite us. I was feeling pretty darn smug about it.
Then I attended the World Methodist Conference in Houston last week. It didn’t look like our General Conference at all. They sang differently – out loud and with movement! Sermons and Bible Studies brought the audience to its feet shouting and affirming. We sang together, each their own native language and it was not chaos.
At first I noticed the many differences, the clothing, the favorite songs, the preaching styles. There were many different kinds of Methodists there and I was intent on understanding those differences. Even those parables so familiar to me and clear in interpretation could be interpreted differently.
The conference theme was “ONE”. The challenge to me was to move through my initial reaction of difference and pay attention to what was underneath. The teaching of the Gospel was our common foundation and the wisdom of John Wesley connected all of us. We may branch in different directions, but we come from one common root. Here are some snippets of the many sermons and Bible studies that caught my attention.
- Oneness is not “connectivity”, sameness or exclusivity. It is community, variety and ALL, without exception.
- Restoring oneness requires confession, grace and forgiveness. When truth is used without grace it divides us.
- Privilege damages. It damages both the privileged and non-privileged.
- Change happens when we cross the street for love. Love is our driver, not judgment.
- Unity of Christians is powerful, dangerous and threatening. We are millions, with a voice, a common mission and can choose to be heard; to make a difference.
- Something new is trying to be born.
- As the lion and lamb can come together, so can justice and mercy.
- Oneness is about unity AND moving forward. We have been called for transformation, our work is not done once we build a church and open the doors.
I do not have conclusions or interpretations for these comments. I can not fold them up and put them away for they continue to call to me. They have become the “thinking points” for my mind and heart. What I do know is that we are and can continue to be one. From conservative to liberal, from established communities of faith to fledgling ones, from 159 countries and through 139 languages, we are one. Now, surveying tomorrow from the top of my foothill I see many more and taller mountains. I have been outfitted well by John Wesley. I am ready for the journey.
Image Credit: “Mountains” by Flickr user Tony, CC BY 2.0.