For some United Methodist ministers, their "home church" is a singular place filled with memories. It's the community of faith in which they were baptized, raised, confirmed, attended Sunday school, ate potluck dinners, participated in the Youth Fellowship, and were first approved to pursue ordained ministry. For others, there may be more than just one congregation that contributed to these memories. For still others, joining a United Methodist congregation may have come later in life.
Yesterday, I returned to Monticello United Methodist Church, where I was baptized as an infant, to preach at a Holy Week service. As I stood under the chancel's stained glass window, depicting Jesus knocking gently on a door, I reflected on the doors God had opened for me through the love of this congregation. On this Maundy Thursday, we remember the servanthood of Jesus, who knelt and washed his disciples' feet with the command to "love one another." When I think of such servant ministry, I think of the people of this congregation with whom I worshipped last night. They are indeed my "home" church, but I did not grow up there. I was not confirmed there. I was not involved with the youth group. I did eat a few potluck dinners there, but those were not on a regular basis. What made it "home" was not the number of years I'd spent in its pews. It was the fact that the people made me feel as if I'd never left.
My family moved away from Monticello when I was four years old. As I shared in last week's post, I grew up in a charismatic and Baptist churches for which I am very grateful--and to which I often return when on vacation! It was on a mission trip in high school that I first sensed God calling me to ministry, but I was unclear of what exactly I was supposed to do. While I was in college, I began to realize that ordained ministry was the path for me. But what was I to do? At the time, I was involved in a church that did not believe in the ordination of women! Then, one day, I remembered the Methodist church in which I was baptized, where my grandparents were still members. I contacted the pastor to discuss my sense of calling, and he talked with me at length about the process. I agreed wholeheartedly with the Wesleyan theology that we discussed. After much prayer and consideration, I called him again to say that I wanted to become a United Methodist minister. What did I need to do next?
Well, I needed to become a United Methodist again. Duh.
Without pausing, he invited me to reaffirm my vows at the church where my name was still in the baptismal record. Over a Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I drove to this small-town church, and in front of many who had witnessed the baptism 20 years earlier, reaffirmed my commitment to this congregation. I became active there while on breaks from school and found a mentor near my college campus. When the time came for recommendation to ministry, the church council called a meeting and unanimously approved. I preached my first and second sermons there. And through each of these processes, one thing remained consistent: the love of the people. Never once did I hear someone say, "Why should we support her? She didn't even grow up here!" I heard no grumblings or complaints. All I heard was "we're so proud of you" or "we're so glad you're here" or "we love you."
Yesterday, even though six years had passed since I was last in the pulpit there, those words of love and acceptance still abounded. Today, as I read Jesus' command "to love one another," in preparation to celebrate his Last Supper, I see the faces of the Monticello church --people who quietly nurture one another with a spirit of humility. I can't help but think of the many churches like it that have "loved" people into their callings -- churches that do not draw attention to themselves but rather attend to one another. May it be so with all of us. As we journey with Christ to the cross this week, let us give thanks that we do not walk alone. No matter what our denomination or tradition, may we worship with the spirit of Jesus in that stained glass window. Quietly knocking. Patiently waiting. Always loving.
all good things to each of you,