Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us…there are other forces at work in this world besides the will of evil.
JRR Tolkien Lord of the Rings
As the pandemic ends or at least enters a new phase it is great to look out and see calm waters in our culture, our community and our church, to see a bright and boundless future open before us… But, if I am opening my blog with a quote from Lord of the Rings then things are almost certainly not so calm. You don’t have to be a fan of Middle Earth to understand Frodo. When Frodo begins to grasp the scale of the challenge and the stakes of his journey he wants out. Gandalf the wise wizard tells him that everyone who faces a similar moment feels the same, but we don’t often get to pick the moments we are faced with, but we do have agency (and thankfully) God’s grace in the moments we face.
Many of you have friends in other Methodist churches that are calling to ask when your church is going to ‘vote,’ some will have seen news articles about the split in our denominations, and others may be blissfully unaware of the upheaval. I wish I could distill all of this down to a very simple description of what is happening and then offer a very simple and obvious course of action. There are those that will offer just that and I understand the allure, but the distortion necessary to do so is beyond my capacity to delude myself or this congregation.
It's messy and hard; like family tends to be. People who love Jesus and want good for the church can and do see things very differently. Some will point to views on the authority of scripture and the person and meaning of Jesus. Others will tell you it’s all about marriage or gender identity, either because people are being excluded or because others are pushing an agenda. Many will point out that this is essentially a polity ‘problem’ (polity means how a church is structured, ordered or functions). You wouldn’t have to look hard to find folks who are convinced our denomination is broken and cannot be repaired.
If you were to ask why now, you would get another range of answers about the church, the actions of different groups, or perhaps it’s the result of a climax of cultural and theological disputes. If the various issues, perspectives and histories aren’t hard enough it can be challenging just to untangle all the acronyms and obscure vocabulary. UMC, GMC, PSUMC, connection, appointments, itinerancy, and apportionments to name a few. And, even saying all of this I can confidently say it is more complicated and unclear than all this.
What shall we do in such a moment? We will gather; we will pray and take communion together. We will remain concerned but not consumed by these matters. We will remain focused and committed to the purpose and calling of University in God’s story. We will love deeply, listen carefully, and walk wisely led by Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.
Join us this Sunday, Aug. 28, at 5pm in the Sanctuary or on the live stream. All are welcome. We will take questions and concerns in writing but this is not a night of debate or deceleration. I will not be able to resolve or settle all the ‘issues’ but I do hope to dispel a few misunderstandings and offer a little bit of the current landscape as well as help with the acronyms and insider language. Most importantly I want to root us in the story of what God has done and is doing through the people and ministry of University. It is our purpose that unites us and God’s presence that animates us as a community. I confess it is bold given the legacy of University but I believe that the best days of this amazing community lie ahead. We are not out of time, we are not running low on God’s grace, and we will face whatever is before us together in love.
Looking forward the water may not appear calm, there may even be a storm brewing but Jesus is in the boat with us and we are not afraid.