To the United Methodist Body of Christ in the Seattle District,
As this year draws to a close, and another begins to birth I pray for all of our congregations a deep renewal of Holy Spirit. In my autumn tour of the District I experienced the presence of the Spirit of Jesus in all of our churches. Sometimes it was the baby Jesus just being born, in others I experienced an adolescent Jesus just beginning to grow into identity and purpose, in others I experienced the wilderness Jesus wrestling with temptations to be other than who Jesus really is, and in some churches I experienced the healing Christ, the suffering Christ, the wisdom Christ and the excitement of the resurrected Christ. I celebrate and am grateful for all of it.
But I want to speak a hard truth-in-love here. I also experienced the stifling of the Holy Spirit. I experienced in many of our congregations an immaturity of Methodist practice and spiritual development. Some of our congregations are aging rapidly, losing members, not attracting younger generations but are seemingly ok with that. It’s like some of us have just given up and are hanging on until the end. I kept wondering, “where’s the vitality? Where’s the energy? Where’s the faith?”
I think of the words of Annie Dillard:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
My point is not criticism. Rather, given the way the world is, and given the despair and hedonism all around us I just keep looking for deeper, more creative responses of redemption and new creation. Yet what I experienced all too often was the continuation of that which is aging us while maintaining our disconnection from a culture that finds us irrelevant. It is as if we have been placed in some type of trance that has caused us to believe that we are just ordinary primates without any larger purpose than the comfort of our own lives. This bothers me.
Here is my point: We in the church are not primarily nice, good, decent people. We are primarily the risen Body of Christ and carriers of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives. It is through our hands that healing flows, and through our lips that words of hope are proclaimed. The Church is the animating center from which God goes forth to transform the world as it is into the world as it ought to be. But I didn’t experience this desire or depth of intensity in many of our congregations.
And that’s why I pray for a deep renewal of Holy Spirit in all of our congregations. I pray for a reawakening of identity and purpose. Jesus is not an object out there towards which we strive. Rather Jesus is right here and now inside these temples of our own bodies awaiting to be given birth. Just imagine what might happen if even ten folk in every congregation awakened to the awesome truth that “I am an expression of the risen Christ”. Just imagine if even ten persons in your church acted as if they were, in fact, Jesus (cf: Colossians 1:27). What would change? What would remain —although transformed?
To help in that journey of discovery I offer three examples of transforming from the inside-out.
- For those who want a living Seattle-area example of folks learning how to go deeper in the practice of contemplative spirituality, check out the Patmos Community, which is anchored inside University Temple. They meet every Thursday evening.
- For a daily meditation I recommend the wisdom of Richard Rohr at www.cac.org.
- For a new global awakening connecting all faiths together on the higher ground of God as “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28) — check out the Foundation for New Monasticism.
As we move towards the new year may God draw us out to where we can never return. May God transform each of us from the inside-out. May the Seattle District of the United Methodist Church experience ecstasy, and through it truly be born again. For this I pray.
The Rev. Rich Lang serves as Seattle District Superintendent in the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.