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Embracing the change we see

Sunlight hitting a lake

Rev. Scott Harmon, superintendent of the Northern Waters District, says the church is changing, and there is room for God’s Spirit to work in all of our hearts.

Superintendent, Northern Skies District

In Northern Michigan, the glistening waters of the lakes are once again lapping at the shore. Breezes roll through the woods, bringing pine-scented heat or cool refreshment depending on their direction. For thousands of years, the native cultures that lived, loved, and prayed, raising their children to revere the world that sustains us, have called this land home.

Only in the last few hundred years has our white Euro-culture been present. First as trappers and traders, then as fishermen, loggers, and miners. In time, small communities grew up around these industries, shaping — with churches and community life — the locations we think of as recreational today.

I highlight this, for while it’s comforting to say, “It’s always been this way,” it really hasn’t. Maybe in our thin slivers of personal memory, or the cleansed images shared as a cultural collective, but life is not static. Not even in the far reaches of the Northern Skies.

Some years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked, “If religion is only the garb in which Christianity is clothed — and this garb has looked very differently in different ages — what then is religionless Christianity?” His inquiry has long resonated with me. Recognizing that what constitutes “church” today has looked very differently at different times in history gives a framework to understand the changes we are experiencing.

The United Methodist Church has long been a community for those seeking to know and grow closer to God. Diverse languages or images have been used, and different traditions or expressions have been lifted up. Still, at our best, we are a people able to look beyond specific expressions or religious traditions for the heart of Christ possessed by the individual.

What makes me most hopeful today in all the talk of “Nones” and “Dones” is that The United Methodist Church is a place where we can say, “I disagree, but I love you anyway.” There’s room for God’s Spirit to continue to work in all of our hearts. It’s not required that we be fully formed — to have all the answers or be perfect Christians — to be part of God’s people. It means we’re on a journey.

Having the great respect for law enforcement that we do in the regions of the Northern Skies, my State Police friends might be confused at what a big believer I am in Spirit-led U-turns. I dream of open highways — so vast that the urge to draw closer to God and “turn around” is easy to respond to. That’s the church I’m glad to be part of, where we seek to connect with our communities in meaningful ways. Where folks can come and check out the way we not only talk about Jesus but seek to live our lives walking in his teachings, better understanding The Way he directed us. It’s going to look, sound, and feel differently, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Now in my 50s, I’ll admit I yearn for the “perfect” jeans I once wore that were so comfortable. My heart wants it to be the way it used to be, but my head knows that day has passed, and those jeans can’t be replaced. They were “perfect” at a particular time, in a warmly remembered season of life, but those seasons, like the various garbs of religion through which we share our faith in the church, change.

As a Christ-follower who has found his home in The United Methodist Church, I invite us to dig deep into our faith, ask what truly guides us, and follow that in action. Let us pray for one another, and as we recognize that God is not done with any of us yet, remember, too, that God is not done with the church. For wherever two or more are gathered, in its many and varied forms, Christ is present. May it be so, Lord. Indeed, as we enjoy the waters lapping at the many shores that have changed so many times in so many ways, may it be so.

Last Updated on July 10, 2024

The Michigan Conference