Skip to main content

"I'm Not Leaving Until We Get It Right."

A couple of days ago our church staff gathered for worship in the Chapel, as we do every Tuesday. Rev Tim Morrison gave the message, based on 1 Thessalonians 5:8-28. He began the message by asking us to mention specific moments that touched us in our faith journeys: a sermon, a work of music, a teacher or lesson, a time we received care from another. As I thought about impactful sermons on my life (there have been several), one sentence echoed in my ears:

"I'm not leaving until we get it right."

This sentence was spoken by Bishop Alfred Norris (this link is for the bio and picture only; the sermon podcast is a different message from the one I am referencing in this post) at the opening worship service of the Texas Annual Conference several years ago. Bishop Norris ordained me an Elder in 2001. I remember listening to this sermon several times while cleaning the garage one day (don't ask)-- I had bought it on cassette tape. In the sermon he talked about a conversation he had with a lay person. The man was remembering the "good old days" of the Methodist Church, before the 1968 merger. Here's a little history for non-Methodist folk: Our denomination split over the issue of slavery in the 1850s: North and South (that's why SMU, founded in 1911, is called Southern Methodist University). In 1939, those two Methodist denominations merged to form the Methodist Church. WooHoo!

But racism in the church was not finished: as the Methodist Episcopal Churches North and South formed the Methodist Church, African-American United Methodists were forced into the newly-formed Central Jurisdiction. While white Methodists were organized geographically, black Methodists across the country were all organized together. The Central Jurisdiction was all about racism, plain and simple. Well, in 1968, the Methodist Church merged once again with a cousin-like denomination, the Evangelical United Brethren, forming the United Methodist Church. That same year, 1968, the Central Jurisdiction was abolished, and African Americans were once again brought into the fold of the church.

So when this man hearkened for the good old days-- before 1968, when things began to fall apart for our movement in his mind-- it set off a nerve. Bishop Norris had served in that Central Jurisdiction and knew what it represented. Thinking on the brokenness of the church, and all the subsequent hurt, Bishop Norris reflected on the number of African Americans who have left the church over racism. He'd considered it too. But then he said:

"I'm not leaving until we get it right."


Recently many members of Custer Road received a letter from an organization called UM Action, which is linked to the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), headquartered in Washington, DC. Our church mailing list, and the lists of many other United Methodist congregations, was obtained by the IRD after the now defunct United Methodist Reporter (UMR Inc.) evidently sold its mailing lists to raise revenue. Those who received this letter did so because their church newsletters, like Custer Road's, were once published through UMR Inc. This letter contained some very volatile language, and it is not my intention to speak to that content. That being said, it is true that our denomination is facing serious challenges once again, mostly related to our stances on homosexuality, and the threat of schism has many United Methodists worried about what will happen at our next General Conference, which meets in 2016. Annual Conferences, including North Texas, will elect delegates to that conference this summer. So tensions are high.

Personally, I do not think our General Conference is functional enough to change the denomination's stance, and no, I am not running to be a delegate. In 2012, the conference did produce some needed reforms, but our Judicial Council, sort of the church's Supreme Court, ruled them unconstitutional. So the institution remained largely unchanged. It's my belief that we'll see the same thing again in 2016. More frustration and hand wringing. Then the talk of schism, etc. will resurface before the 2020 General Conference.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me in prayer for our United Methodist denomination as we face significant challenges ahead. We have always been a “large tent” church, big enough to welcome and honor the differing opinions of many. Unfortunately, throughout our history we have chosen the easiest route-- leave or divide the church. I believe we can do better-- the difficult work of staying together and doing Kingdom work. Remembering Bishop Norris' words, I am committed to stay, to honor the opinions of all, and to treat each United Methodist as a sister or brother. Let us all remember, and live out, the words of one of Jesus’ prayers to God: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).


Popular posts from this blog

Reflecting Upon Newtown

Note: I offered these words during the prayer section of worship Sunday, December 16.

Last Friday was a day full of surprising ministry. After I wrote my usual Friday email devotion to the church, I received a call from Byron Proutt, our missions coordinator. He and others had recently partnered with Park Cities Presbyterian on a project, and their missions director called Byron to say another ministry was unable to pick up several boxes of food for their pantry—could we use it? Of course we could! So Pastor Gregg, Mr Johnny, and I rolled out to the warehouse and hauled back 80 boxes of food. Praise God! After we unloaded it Gregg and I went to Kroger to give them a letter of appreciation for making our Thanksgiving baskets for hungry families a priority. After I dropped Gregg off at home, I turned on my radio for the first time that day and heard the reports of the shootings in Newtown, Conn. I could not believe what I heard, especially as a father of young children.

I came back to m…

The Famous Black Cat Band

This week my former high school band director, Mr Reinke, died. Mr Reinke is a legend in my hometown of Bay City. He was the leader of our Black Cat Band for many years. He was a fiery man, a perfectionist with extremely high standards. He was a gifted musician. He and I both played the trombone; one of us sounded like a goose being strangled. The other sounded like... well I can't think of a metaphor to properly describe Mr Reinke's horn. It was amazing. He would pull that thing out occasionally to show us how to properly play a part of a song and the sound was spellbinding. 
Mr Reinke was very innovative in his music selections. He had us playing the most random music, from popular stuff of the day by Michael Jackson to Also Sprach Zarathustra (popularly known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. This song in particular was a great choice-- it's amazing, complicated; however, this was the late 1980s. The song was originally released…

a response to gideons international

last sunday prosper united methodist church welcomed representatives of the gideons to share about their ministry. how many times have you stayed in a hotel or visited someone in the hospital and found a gideons Bible there? and while no one can argue that reading the Bible is a bad thing, or that distributing Bibles to others in native languages is inherently harmful, i would like to offer some thoughts on the practices of the gideons, as they were described at church.

1. bravo to the gideons for distributing 73 million Bibles last year. however, most of the Bibles they sent were tiny new testaments with psalms. i am a Christian, and i love the words of the new testament. but those words have their foundation in the old testament, and to remove thousands of years of traditions and stories of God's powerful love and acts of salvation diminishes the power of the whole Bible. we must never forget that the old testament (or "first" testament or "hebrew Bible"…