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A few years ago, Jon Stewart had a funny bit on The Daily Show where he talked about Chelsea Clinton being married in a United Methodist Church. Somewhere in the segment, Stewart noted that The United Methodist Church was “like The University of Phoenix of denominations.” As a life-long United Methodist born and raised in the church, I laughed at the bit. After all, why take yourself so seriously? And yes, sometimes it seems we’re so watered down and bland, our way of doing church could be done in your pajamas from the comfort of your home computer.
On the other hand, just because a comedy bit is funny doesn’t make it true.
You see I am United Methodist because I was loved into it. For many that may sound trite, but it’s true. My mother is a diehard member of The United Methodist Women. One of her best decisions as a mother was to bring me and my sister to the font as babies, hand us over to the Church, allow a preacher to pour cold water over our bald little heads, and have us be named, before God and a community of faith, as Christian. I remained a United Methodist because a community of faith took seriously their vow to “surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness that they may grow into a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.” And they did just that. Through an obnoxious phase as an adolescent and even through a prodigal phase as a college student, they never failed to love and surround me – even from afar at times – as a community offering love, patience, mercy, and forgiveness.
While some may note the beauty of The United Methodist Church lies in the size of our theological tent, I believe our true beauty lies in the ways we live the theology we profess. I’ve been shaped by men and women – quiet giants in their own right – who model what it means to give your life, take up a cross, and walk a narrow way in service to the world for the sake of justice. Whether it’s our history in the abolitionist movement, women’s rights movement, civil rights movement, the ongoing work to fight poverty, the protection of God’s creation, the fight to protect the right to life at all stages of life, the eradication of disease, or the uplifting of rights for the most vulnerable in our midst, United Methodists have been on the forefront of service for the sake of justice because holiness isn’t truly holy unless it takes on the form of love for God and neighbor and encompasses one’s heart AND life.
I guess you could say that I am United Methodist because of love. Now I know for too many we don’t always faithfully live into that call for holiness in the form of love for God and neighbor. Too often we want to restrict our neighborhood of love like it’s a gated subdivision instead of a banquet table where there are enough seats for everyone. It’s a sin in the things we do and the things we leave undone. But I am United Methodist because we know that love doesn’t first depend on us – we love because we were first loved by a God who loves to tear down walls, erase arbitrary barriers, and burst through tombs.
I am United Methodist because there is an enormous wideness and depth to God’s love. And I just know that the same God who has loved us this far, won’t let us go until ALL are embraced in the grip of that love through the life of the church, summoned by that love to a life of service for the sake of others, and finally perfected by that love into the people we have always been created to be.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is the senior pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, a diverse, urban congregation located on the east side of town in Savannah, GA. He blogs at Covered in the Master’s Dust. This post is reprinted with permission from UMC LEAD's current series, "Why I Am a United Methodist."