Dear Hyde Park Family,
As we conclude our worship series “The Meaning of Methodist” this Sunday, here are ten reasons I love being United Methodist. I pray they resonate with you, too.
1. I love how United Methodists view God. We believe that first and foremost, God is love. God also exists as the trinity, though John Wesley did not require any one exclusive way to understand it. Like his openness to the varieties atonement theories, Wesley’s primary concern was that any theological claim would lead a person to greater love and holiness. I love how being a United Methodist is so theologically grounded in Christian tradition, while also very practical. This is generous orthodoxy.
2. I love the way United Methodists understand God’s grace. We cannot earn or deserve our salvation, yet we still must accept Jesus as our Savior. John Wesley navigated the tension between God’s power and human free will through the idea of prevenient grace, in which our very ability to choose to accept Jesus is itself a gift from God, at work long before we realized it.
3. I love how United Methodist means being a work in progress. Prevenient grace is just the first step toward a lifelong work of grace in our lives (prevenient, justifying, sanctifying). We remember that God loves us enough to meet us where we are, and loves us too much to leave us there. And I love the idea that God offers us means of grace (including prayer, communion, fasting, and scripture reading) that enable us to renew our sense of God’s love and reaffirm our commitment to Jesus.
4. I love the way United Methodists embrace both faith and reason. John Wesley believed in the Bible as our primary authority for matters of faith, and he encouraged reason as a lens for interpreting it, in light of the scientific wisdom of the time. He encouraged his preachers to learn reason and logic, and he sent them the latest philosophies of his day. I love how being United Methodist enables me to embrace both religion and science, as a kind of stereoscopic way to view and appreciate and understand the splendor of creation.
5. I love the way United Methodists read the Bible. We focus on the whole of the Bible’s message, which conveys the ongoing and enduring love of God for the world. John Wesley was less interested in more minor details regarding the Bible’s contradictions and anachronisms, concentrating instead on how the Bible’s overarching narratives can lead us to a greater love. I love how Wesley’s approach freed me from my earlier fundamentalist, literalist days, and encourages us to ask reasonable, thoughtful questions that deepen our faith.
6. I love how United Methodists understand shared governance and holy conferencing. We have a unique polity and structure in our denomination that reminds us that no one person ever has sole authority to make all the decisions on any level. The local church has shared governance between the clergy and laity, and among the various elected leadership committees. The denomination has no pope or president, but is guided by a gathering of delegates in holy conversation. The Annual Conference is given spiritual direction by the bishop, who presides over the decisions made by elected delegates from all its churches. I love that in the United Methodist Church, we discern God’s best future together.
7. I love how United Methodists live in the center, in the way of love. We are a people of the via media, the way of the middle, the center. We take the best of two ideological opposites and forge a third way that allows us to be unified in the essentials of our faith while allowing latitude on lesser matters of interpretation. When we are at our healthiest and best as a church, we model the kind of non-binary, non-dualistic thinking that guided John Wesley’s belief and practice.
8. I love how United Methodists are connectional and impact the world. From the small groups that meet in a local church to the missions and efforts that span the world, we are a connectional people. Our denominational structures ensure that our faithfulness on the local level can be amplified on a global level. We support hospitals, relief agencies, community service centers, schools, seminaries, and missionaries near and far. We recently raised $27 million dollars of relief for the people of Ukraine. We are making a difference.
9. I love how United Methodists sing their faith. John Wesley believed in the balance between heart and mind, something that the songs of Charles Wesley and other songwriters convey. Whether we sing in corporate worship or in the privacy of our own devotions, we put melody to our theology, and offer praise to God with our hearts and our minds. Methodists are a singing people.
10. I love how the United Methodist Church is itself a work in progress and moving on to perfection. God’s sanctifying grace is at work on the people called Methodist, just as it has been throughout our history. When we have gotten it wrong as a church, God has nudged us toward more perfection in love. We overcame our structural separation over slavery in 1939. We began ordaining women to be clergy in 1956. We allowed divorced pastors to remain as clergy in the 1960’s and 1970’s. We are navigating new challenges over LGBTQ inclusion, and we will get there. God loves the church enough to meet us where we are, and loves it too much to leave it there.
Most of all, I love serving a congregation that will be part of the continuing United Methodist Church. For nearly 125 years, we have been part of the remarkable work of the Holy Spirit here in Tampa Bay and throughout the world. It is a joy to make God’s love real together.
Grace and Peace,
FLORIDA ANNUAL CONFERENCE UPDATE
Over recent months the Florida Annual Conference has been navigating challenges from some churches wishing to leave the United Methodist Church. Hyde Park United Methodist is not one of those churches, and we remain committed to being part of God’s bright future for the continuing United Methodist Church. The Conference website is a helpful place to read the most recent developments, including this statement from Bishop Ken Carter and this helpful FAQ giving additional details.