“Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” – Matthew 12:48-50
Each year at this time, United Methodist Pastors and Lay Representatives gather for an event called Annual Conference. This happens all over the world, wherever there is a Methodist Church, you can be sure the leaders are gathering. The conference normally lasts for 3 days and contains all sorts of activities from worship to missions to the commissioning of the next generation of pastors.
It has been this way for 300 years or so. It is a way for the leaders of our churches to stay on the same page, to encourage each other, and make decisions about how to be a better, more God-glorifying church. There is a long tradition and heritage there for those of us who call ourselves United Methodists.
See, the unique thing about our church is that it is a global entity. There are UMC’s all over the world, yet we are all connected in a deep way through our structure and traditions. We help each other with our needs, our resources, our prayers and our experiences. We stay in contact with each other, so that when we all come together, we know each other by name – we are family.
I attended the North Alabama Annual Conference yesterday and I was deeply blessed by my time there. See, like any global organization, we have our challenges. And we don’t all see things the same way. I will admit, in the past few months, I have been wondering if there is even a place for me in this denomination. It has seemed to me that as our church has been living into and wrestling with new challenges – that I might not fit here anymore (or be welcomed.)
But the grace of God was showered upon me as I strolled up the sidewalk yesterday morning to the gathering place. I saw a dear friend that wanted to pray for me. I saw, on the community altar, a prayer request for my family – the faithful author unknown.
As in years past, I had my children with me. But instead of leaving them in the children’s camp, I brought them with me to lunch. And for a couple of hours my young ones were blessed with the presence of people that have loved and cared for them all their lives (most of whom they did not even know.)
“Come Hope, meet the pastor that visited the hospital the day you were born and pronounced a blessing over you.”
“Come Daniel, meet the man that built your swing set for you when you were two.”
“Look children, come and meet the woman that rocked you as babies in the church nursery and sang you to sleep with “Jesus Loves Me.”
And on and on. So many people. So different from each other, and yet – all family. And all reminding me that I do belong here. And my children belong here and are valued.
Many people lament that the Methodist Church as we know it may not survive into the next generation.
But after this wonderful gift of God in the shape of faces and open arms, I am renewed in my spirit and my resolve to faithfully serve this church and to share it with the next generation. There is too much at stake to lose. I want my kids to understand the value of being a part of this wonderful body of Christ. More importantly, I want them to learn that the very heart of being a Christian can be found here – no matter where in the world they end up.
I pray today for my church, and United Methodists all over the world. We come from every nation and culture. We seek to worship and serve You in ways more numerous to count. We don’t even all speak the same language – and yet we are family.
Lord, our church has challenges. Let Your Spirit rage like a river through our congregations. Let Your fire rekindle in the hearts of our people. Give us, every one, a vision of what You want us to be for the next generation and those to come. And teach us to be the witnesses this world needs.
Thank You, my King, for the deep and daily blessings that flow over me through your people.
In Your Sweet Name I pray,