May 11, 2023
Dear Hyde Park Family,
For this final installment of “Why the UMC?” I offer a few of the many reasons why I continue to be drawn to Wesleyan theology and practice, and why we can be excited to be part of the continuing United Methodist Church.
United Methodists have a beautifully nuanced understanding of God’s grace. John Wesley found a way to hold these contrary truths together: 1) There is nothing we need to do to earn salvation; 2) We need to accept Jesus as our Savior to be saved. Wesley navigated the tension between them through his notion 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. That grace continues to work in us through a lifelong process of leading us to faith in Jesus (justifying grace) and then shaping us more into the image of Jesus (sanctifying grace).
United Methodists live in the center, in the way of love. We are a people of the via media, the way of 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 is a hallmark of the Wesleyan tradition.
United Methodists practice an open table in communion. I often hear from new members how much they appreciate how we welcome all people to receive communion, regardless of membership in this or any other church. We believe that the communion table belongs to Jesus, not to any one church, and Christ invites all who earnestly seek a relationship with him.
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 is amplified on a global scale. We support hospitals, relief agencies, community service centers, schools, seminaries, and missionaries near and far. We are making a difference.
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 decision-making by clergy and lay representatives. I love that in the United Methodist Church, we discern God’s future together.
The United Methodist Church is itself a work in progress. God’s sanctifying grace has been at work in the people called Methodist all throughout our history. When we have gotten it wrong as a church, God has nudged us toward 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.
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
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist
Starting Sunday, May 21, I will be offering a two-week book study on Bishop Ken Carter’s new book Unrelenting Grace, in which we will explore the beauty and richness of our United Methodist core values of grace, holiness, and connection. Sessions 1 and 2 will be available on Sundays or Wednesdays at the end of this month. To find out more and to sign up, click here.