UM & Global is beginning a new series that will feature United Methodist scholars and leaders from around the world reflecting on their hope for the future of The United Methodist Church as a global movement within the larger context of worldwide Methodism as a whole. While the posts will not avoid issues related to the UMC’s debate on sexuality, the goals of the series are 1) to broaden the conversation about the future of Methodism as a global, missional movement concerned with a wide range of issues, not just a set of church institutions concerned with this one issue, and 2) to identify the bright spots of hope in the United Methodist tradition. Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster and Global Ministries Director of Mission Theology Dr. David W. Scott.
My hope for Methodism is that the best of our missional past will propel us into our future.
One project I have been working on lately has been coordinating the bicentennial celebration of the founding of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the earliest denomination-wide mission group in American Methodism. As part of that project, I am assembling a database of missionary biographies. (You can submit stories, too!) Certainly, Methodists have made many mistakes in our past mission. Yet, as I have read these stories, I have frequently been deeply inspired by the lives of faithful Methodists involved in mission. I hope that Methodists will continue to live out our faith in some of the same ways as these missionaries. In particular:
They loved Jesus. While missionaries operated with a variety of theologies, the best of them had a deep-seated spirituality fueled by their love of Jesus. In good Methodist fashion, that love motivated them to show their love through actions. Methodist missionaries worked hard, risked much, suffered and even died, opened themselves up to new places and new ways of seeing the world. All of this would not have been possible without a sustaining love of Jesus. I hope Methodists will continue to have such a sustaining, motivating love of Jesus.
They loved other people. The best Methodist missionaries were not only overflowing with love for Jesus, but love for the people with whom they worked, inside and outside the church. Whether that love was that of the privileged who came to understand, care for, and champion the causes of the oppressed with whom they worked or that of those who rose up from disadvantaged backgrounds to help their communities, no good mission was ever done without love. I hope Methodists will continue to love not just each other, but the individuals and the world outside their doors.
They broke barriers. There are so many inspiring stories of Methodist women and people of color from around the world who did things no woman or person of color had before because they were Methodist missionaries. They took authority from the Holy Spirit, did what others said they couldn't, went where others said they shouldn't, and accomplished what others said they wouldn't. In so doing, they proved that God was working through them, too. I hope that Methodist women and Methodists of color will continue to claim their equal part in the church and the world.
They tried new things. Methodist missionaries sought to be faithful to their Methodism. But they understood that doing so meant being willing to try new things - new forms of mission, new ways of organizing church, new activities in the broader society, new relationships, new ways of thinking, etc. They even tried new things, failed, and then went right on trying. They understood that faithfulness wasn't in tension with trying new things; it required it. Missionaries opened themselves up to change and were agents of change in the church and world. I hope that Methodists will continue to be open to being faithful in new ways.
They showed the breadth and strength of Methodism. Methodism is a big tradition. As a religious movement that has been around for 300 years, spans a multitude of countries and cultures, and currently includes over 80 million people, there are a lot of different ways, past and present, to be Methodist. Yet at the same time, there are also "family resemblances," if you will. Reading missionary biographies shows both the diversity and the resemblances within Methodism and the value of both. Methodist missionaries have inspired me by showing the many, many ways in which they brought God's love to the world. This dizzying, dazzling array of mission gives me not just one hope for Methodism, but a whole host of hopes, as vast as the night sky.