We are not like other churches.
Ever since the beginning of Methodism during the height of the revolutionary war, Methodists have been at the frontier – caring for the wounded, binding up the broken, feeding the hungry, and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.
Frances Asbury, the first Bishop in the Methodist Church of North America was a wanted man. As an Englishman, he was wanted by the Patriots because, well, he was an Englishman! He was also wanted by the red coats because he was caring for the enemy and preaching to the heathen! Fact is, Bishop Asbury didn’t ask a man or woman or child what their political or religious sympathies were. He saw each person as they truly were, redcoat or patriot, man or woman – all made in the image of God. No-one is quite sure just how Bishop Asbury evaded capture by both sides, but there are many anecdotal stories of Asbury arriving on horseback in a town to preach just a few minutes after the Patriot’s had left, or ambling down one side of a hill on his horse and simply disappearing as the redcoats charged up the other side.
As Bishop Asbury ordained clergy and licensed laypeople to preach, he would send them to serve a circuit of churches. The churches and circuits receiving the Methodist clergy did not get to choose their preacher or vote their preacher in (or out) – they trusted that the process of ordaining and sending clergy worked and received that person usually with great joy. You only saw the minister once every few months when they would ride into town – which meant most weddings and baptisms and communion services would all happen on the same weekend. If you’ve ever wondered why some Methodist Churches only celebrate communion every three months, or monthly, it’s a throwback to the time when you didn’t have a clergyperson in attendance at every service. Actually – our discipline calls for weekly observance of the sacrament of communion in churches. At Nameoki, while we have communion monthly at 8.15am and 10.30am, we celebrate the meal every week on Saturday at 4pm.
Our system still works. Churches simply don’t get to choose their clergyperson. However – don’t forget that clergy don’t get to choose the church they are sent to serve. We go willingly, wherever the Bishop sends us, as to best serve the missional need of the United Methodist Church in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference.
During this particular season in the life of Nameoki UMC, you have me. You didn’t choose me to be your pastor... I didn’t choose you to be my congregation... but the Bishop set us up on a “blind date”, and together we are fulfilling the mission of the United Methodist Church – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. When the clergy - or the church - try and control the process of sending clergy, receiving clergy and going forth to serve our city together in Jesus name, conflict arises, and we neglect our primary purpose of making disciples.
At the beginning of each calendar year, it is tradition within the United Methodist Church to recite the Wesleyan covenant prayer – as clergy and as laity together. As our year is drawing to a close, I invite you to consider the words we spoke together back in January of this year, and ready yourself to make the same commitment in January 2018.
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Grace and peace.