Monday, February 4, 2013

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward: Why I Choose the UMC

We love because God first loved us.  In a profound sense, I choose the UMC because God in Christ chose the UMC for me!

I choose the UMC, full of hope that we will live in ever-increasing fruitfulness through Christ in the world.  Our calling is always to turn outward, to experience the Living Christ at the place where the mission of the church meets the world.

Bishop Francis Asbury told the frontier Methodists in America, "Take the resources from the center to the circumference."  This is the challenge for us today, in every place where United Methodists are present.

God is active at the margins.  We meet Christ in the face of those who are sick or anxious or fearful, who are young or elderly, who are searching or hungry.  I choose the UMC because the heritage, the theology and the vision of our church turns us to face out  into the world God loves.

When I was a child, growing up within the embrace of Parkers United Methodist Church, one of three rural churches on a pastoral charge in northeastern North Carolina, I learned from seasoned Christians that mission engagement is a means of grace.  They, of course, learned it from their forebears who learned it from our spiritual parents, Suzannah and John and Charles Wesley. 

At Christmas, we visited those who were elderly and those who were sick.  In the fall, we visited homes, collecting money for children in need.  In Sunday school and worship, we learned that God loves cheerful givers, that God honors hospitality and generosity.  We learned that faith is empty without witness.  I later learned the terms "personal holiness" and" social holiness."

Our life was not perfect, of course.  We were, however, headed toward the perfection that only God can give, the holiness that is a work of the Holy Spirit in us.

I am told that "all" was Charles Wesley's favorite word,  I am convinced this is true.  My favorite Wesley hymn is witness to the resonant "all":

Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down.
Fix in us thy humble dwelling, all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure unbounded love thou art!
Visit us with thy salvation, enter every trembling heart!

"All" and "every" - favorite Wesleyan words - favorite Biblical words.  God will not stop until this entire creation is renewed and redeemed. 

I choose the UMC again in this moment.  We are the people who embrace God's "all."  We are the people who answer with confidence the question, "Who is Jesus?"   We sing, with joy, "Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure unbounded love thou art!"  And we pray, "Visit us with thy salvation, enter every trembling heart!"

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward serves the North Carolina Conference after serving the Mississippi Conference 2004-2012.  She is the president of the General Board of Global Ministries and of JustPeace.  She and her spouse Mike are partners in Christ's mission, particularly with the young.

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