Shelia Heaton and her husband Colin agreed to talk about why they are Methodists believing they had little to say.
The majority of people I have met in the church have things in common with them. Their parents had a huge influence on their faith.
My mother, her father, his father, his father, his mother’s father were all Methodist ministers. I am sixth in a line. Faith was something I could not shake but I took my sweet time taking possession of it. I was 25 when my faith found its peculiar home in the Methodist church. It took three more years to discover its particular home in the Methodist Church of Great Brittan and Ireland.
It is certainly not the only story, but it is a common one in churches. Parents have come during my ministry hoping to pass on to their children what their parents gave to them of a church experience. Members look into the empty spaces in pews and see their ancestor’s imprint. Faith can be a familial experience.
Colin and Shelia have a Romeo and Juliet like church background. They were married in the Anglican Church to please her father but found a home together in the Methodist Church where Colin’s family belonged. They courted in the church; found love together, raised their children under church influence and they still obviously love one another often finishing each other’s thoughts.
Their church home is owed, one might think to this heritage, the family tradition. Maybe, but also they could have chosen any direction to pursue their faith. The one they chose is owed largely to the welcome they received in the churches they mention. They have felt most welcome inside Methodist walls.
Not everyone can say the same. Something clicked for them. They made friends where they chose to attend and near the end of their story, they dropped a real heavy thought about Methodist Identity. Their current church is the product of three declining churches choosing to join together. This is not an uncommon story.
Many communities, even small villages had multiple Methodist chapels in its heyday. Practical decisions have been made to join together in many places sometimes joining very different Methodist outlooks.
If you try and tell a church council what to do as a minister, they tend to vote you down. I proposed we buy Methodist Worship books in one chapel. I thought, as our name was on the title of the book, it was not an item for discussion rather just ratification. Boy was I wrong. After a far too lengthy debate, my proposal was thrown out and it took me a year to get the votes in order to buy these books. I was told, “Boy, some of us have come from the Primitive tradition. We do not want to use a book. That is what we brought you here for.”
I am still sometimes wet behind the ears, but back then you could pour a glass of water from that part of my anatomy. When I learned about the strong Primitive Methodist tradition in the area I served and the mix of the congregation weighted toward that Primitive side, I slowed down all of the Wesley references and focused more on other things.
When Colin and Shelia came to a church made from three different chapels, with three different backgrounds, what let them know they found a home was that you could not detect where people formerly worshiped. They had all accepted one another. They were one Methodist Church, one people united in following Christ better, one group of friends in faith. They found their home belonging to that same oneness, a oneness in God.
1 Cor 12:12-27
12 There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. 13 We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. 14 So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.
15 Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. 16 And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? 18 God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. 19 If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? 20 As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.
21 The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. 23 The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honour. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care. 24 The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honour to the parts that didn’t have any. 25 In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honoured, every part shares in its joy.
27 You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.
Almost every Methodist Church has people in it from different backgrounds. Whether these be, social, economic, racial, gender or any other classification, difference is a part of what makes us special. How difference can come together as one can be the reason a Colin and Shelia may choose to come to your church or not.
What is it like in the place that you worship? Are you authentically valuing each other’s differences? At the same time, are you striving for oneness?
In Notes from an Underground Man, Dostoyevsky muses as the central character about how people perceive him or don’t really. There is a long section about the quality of the collar he has on his overcoat. How if he had a fine beaver collar it would make him visible.
In a consumer society we often think about the trappings of things as defining us: how nice is our car, clothes, house, how recently the kitchen was updated, what holiday we went on this summer… all seem to define how we think others see us.
It is not a universal problem, but one that exists. The reverse can also be true. People can be judged badly because they have bought a new car… My wife remembers feeling like former school friends didn’t like her after she went to university.
Much of this is about how we perceive ourselves or how we think others perceive us.
How do you think God perceives you? How about your church, what do you think God thinks about your church? Are you truly welcoming and warm? Would that extend to all people?
One of the Wesleyan sayings I often share is about communion. He advises Methodists take it as often as they can but at least four times a week.
As a minister I have felt the guilt of not offering that many opportunities knowing, if I did, only a few people would value the effort. The expectation in my churches is only the opportunity to take communion each month.
How often when we break bread do we remember Jesus?
If we are warming the hearts of those that visit our churches with our hospitality and welcome, are we taking them to lunch, buying them coffee or cooking their dinner?
If we did these things are we also communing with God or is that only happening at an altar?
You may have attended a few churches that did not feel right before you found the one that did.
Remember and list the things that you did not like about the churches you never found a home in.
List the things you do not like about your home church.
Why do you choose to come?
Is it about what we like or don’t? If so, is that any different than any other consumer choice?