Those of you who know me well, know that I have struggled for many years, to the point of despair, over our beloved United Methodist Church and the real possibility of schism. I am a United Methodist by choice. The UMC is not my heritage. I am not a "cradle Methodist." I grew up American Lutheran and attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran parochial school, 1st through 6th grades. That means I know what living with laws, guilt and shame, and a vison of God that is punitive is like.
At the age of 30, when we had driven past the First United Methodist Church in Dripping Springs, Texas for over three years, I was finally bitten by the Methodist Bug. Thank God! It was through the voice of our beloved United Methodist pastor, Reverend Grady Roe that we not only learned about grace - grace was extended to us. It was through the arms of the United Methodist Church that I was birthed into ministry. It was with the hands of United Methodists that I participated in my first mission trip (to Appalachia, with the Appalachia Service Project which was then United Methodist). It was a Bishop of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Joe Wilson, who invited me to live into my call and took a great risk by allowing this (then) seminary student to dream of and create the Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission program. Bishop Wilson risked over 300 youth and adults (including himself and members of the Central Texas Conference cabinet) to my leadership and organizational skills as we made the trek to a post-flooded Missouri.
Members of St. Barnabas UMC, the church where I currently serve, were on that first trip. Larry Arnold, Tom Bonjour and others were in St. Joseph, Missouri on that first endeavor in 1994. Wow. What goes around, comes around! But, I digress.
I love the United Methodist Church! I love her in all her brokenness and in all her glory! I love her people (a majority of the time), and I love her focus on personal piety, scriptural holiness, and social justice. I love her focus on God as a grace-filled, abundant, generous God! How can we think of anything but God as that?!
So the thought of this beloved church being ripped into shreds makes me want to vomit like I did when I had food poisoning as a senior in high school. The thought of future generations losing the gifts God has given to me, to our communities, to our world through the United Methodist Church causes me to despair.
BUT this is NOT a message of despair! I write tonight because for the first time in many, many years I have HOPE. I have hope that our beloved church will not die. I have hope that our beloved church will not be ripped into shreds.
A few of you have noticed that I've posted pictures on my Facebook page from the Uniting Methodist Conference I've been attending since Monday. This conference was a gathering of people who have very, very divergent opinions when it comes to matters of human sexuality. But we are not willing to allow the church to be destroyed because of our opinions; because of a "strict reading of Scripture," or especially because of scriptural interpretation. We are those who are willing to "draw the circle wide" so that we can remain united in purpose and mission -- to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World!
Were all the questions answered? Heavens no! Is there pain? Absolutely! Will this work be difficult and challenging? You bet! And at the same time it is GOOD and GODLY work! Is it perfect? Nope. Even John Wesley did not believe we had arrived at perfection, but that we were "moving on to perfection."
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the time is here. Let us take the hands of those who are "not like us" in WHATEVER way that may be -- even Traditionalists and Progressives -- and together move forward as The United Methodist Church!
Thank you God, for the hope that is in my heart this night. May it move me to courage and compassion for all God's children. But especially, Merciful God, may it move us toward a future with hope for our children and grandchildren who are yet to come to faith in you. Amen.
Rev. Virginia O. (Ginger) Bassford, PhD