GROWING IN GRACE
Dear Methodist Movement,
How are you? It’s been a pretty rough week for you. Truth is, it’s been a pretty rough last 40 years. I’m writing because I don’t think I stop enough to tell you thank you. I owe you a lot.
On a cold December Sunday in 1982, I was baptized into the church by Rev. Dick Reese. From that moment, through cold water and the mystery of God’s grace, my life course was to be impacted by the Methodist Movement.
Sunday after Sunday I went to church growing up. I soaked up the knowledge that God loves me and that there’s no height or depth or obstacle in heaven or on earth that can separate me from that love (Rom 8). I learned the Bible from you. I fell in love with Jesus and found new life in Him through the love and teaching you offered me. I was called into ministry as part of the baptismal identity you introduced to me. And I work daily trying to help others find and live into their baptismal calling.
I guess I should pause here, in case someone else reads this love letter, to clarify why I’m calling you by your original name, “Methodist Movement,” and not, “Methodist Church.” I’d like to think that on your best days, despite the insurmountable red tape created by overly legal procedures, you are still an active movement marked by a dogged pursuit of personal and social holiness, evangelical zeal, and grace that seeks to make space for everyone to respond to the demanding call to follow Jesus.
But, after weeks like this past week, where do we go from here?
I’m not entirely sure I know the answer to that question. I think we fail to do you proper justice by continuing to meet in that toxic, three-ring circus we call a General Conference. I think we fail you when we choose to favor winning sides instead of God’s grace. We fail you when we choose to speak ill of brothers and sisters in Christ and fail to heed the rules you whisper time and again into our angry hearts: “Do no harm ... Do good ... Stay in love with God by way of the means of grace.”
You deserve better than we gave you in St. Louis. You deserve better than our constant infighting. You deserve better than 40+ years of decline because we prioritize self-preservation, a bloated bureaucracy, and our own personal preferences over the Great Commission and Great Commandment Christ gave us, shaped by the distinctly Wesleyan flavor you taught us. You deserve better. And so does God.
We don’t need the bishops or General Conference to give us a way forward. The way forward is as ancient and as life-changing as our faith itself – lay down your life ... take up your cross ... follow Jesus. Maybe if we can make that the purpose of our life together instead of all of the junk that seems to hold too much of our attention, you’ll start to look like your old self again – vibrant, alive, innovative, and on the move again seeking to change hearts and lives through the power of Jesus Christ.
It’s been a rough few years, but we’re still here with you. And grace is still here too. I really hope we can do better together.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.