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Why United Methodist, part three

Rev. Dwayne Bagley concludes his three-part series on embracing ways of John Wesley.

Superintendent, Kalamazoo District

In recent weeks I’ve been offering my reasons why I am United Methodist. I did not inherit this faith tradition. I did not grow up in the church. So, for me, being United Methodist was and is a choice. There were and still are some specific reasons I embraced the United Methodist way of being Christian. Last week I shared my thoughts about how the Methodist view of salvation connects with my personal experience and the lived experience of most people who call themselves Christian. 

As I conclude my reflections (but not my list of reasons for being United Methodist) this week I explore how the global connections of United Methodist Church help us to do all the good we can in places all around the globe. 

3. Being a part of the United Methodist Church allows us to make a difference in the world.  Since its beginnings as a reform movement of the Church of England (what we call the “Anglican” or “Episcopal” Church today), the United Methodist Church has focused on serving others in the name of Christ as an essential part of who they were. Although a desire to “flee the wrath to come” was named as one of the primary criteria for membership in the first Methodist societies and classes, Methodists were always focused on how the life of a follower of Christ should be lived in response to the grace a person received from God through Jesus Christ. 

John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Movement) himself advocated that those who had received salvation continue to deepen their discipleship through engagement in practices he called, “means of grace”. In addition to the things you might commonly consider to be means toward the end of building your faith, such as Bible study, prayer, worship and taking communion, Wesley advocated visiting the poor.  his practice was not to be an end in itself, but was meant to connect the people called Methodists to the poor in significant ways and lead toward building the kind of relationships that would, in time, offer opportunity to serve them and serve with them in ways that made a transformative difference in their lives. 

As they practiced this, Methodists offered not only the soul-saving news of Jesus Christ, but also tangible life-changing supports in the form of food, medical care, housing, education and job training. Although early Methodist preachers were often told that they “had nothing to do but save souls”, gaining a hearing for that soul saving message was– more often than not– accomplished through helping to meet people’s immediate physical needs.  

When the Methodist Movement reached the shores of the United States, its mission was expanded to that of “spreading scriptural holiness and reforming the continent”. Methodist reforming zeal was directed at education, health care, alcohol abuse, child labor, abolitionist movements, women’s suffrage and civil rights. Although such advocacy was part of Methodism’s lasting contribution, we have emphasized hands on efforts at doing good in the world. In the aftermath of World War II, the Methodist Church began a relief and recovery ministry which came to be called UMCOR. This ministry has earned the reputation of being the first to arrive and last to leave stricken areas in need of a tangible sign of hope. The work we do in the name of Jesus Christ has an impact locally, nationally and globally. Where we can we try to partner with churches already at work in the areas we serve in the true spirit of John Wesley’s invitation, “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.”  

Just as many of you, I’ve had opportunity to be a small part of some of this work through participation in UMCOR’s disaster relief and recovery ministry here in the United States. I’ve also been blessed to observe the global nature of our connected church through my participation in the World Methodist Council’s World Methodist Evangelism program. Today, the gospel of Jesus Christ is witnessed to through word, deed and sign in places as diverse as Kenya, Cuba, Brazil, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Malaysia. 

Being connected to the United Methodist Church gives us a real opportunity to be part of something larger than ourselves. It offers a chance to make a difference in the name of Jesus Christ in our community and throughout the world. For me this sacred opportunity to be part of what God is doing in the world right here and right now is one of the very best things about being United Methodist. As great as the work we might do as individuals and as individual churches is, what we do together as people called Methodist is even greater and I’m glad to be part of it. 

And now, as a member of the Michigan Area Cabinet, I extend to you an invitation to be part of something that God wants to bless. Together, let’s seek ways to be in mission and ministry so that the State of Michigan is transformed.  I submit to you that this transformation can begin in the lives of individuals touched by the grace of God and be extended into all the places where two or three of us gather in the name of Christ. May each of our hearts be warmed anew and a holy fire kindled so that all God’s people called Methodist might witness to and be part of this movement of God’s Spirit.

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