Back in April, I was invited to be part of the journey to ordination known in United Methodist Church as the Provisional Process. Ironically, I had just been there and done that, but as a Provisional Elder myself. I just celebrated my one year ordination anniversary last month, and about six months into my first year I was being asked to be present with and mentor to those who were beginning their journey in the process.
Like most of those called by God in the Bible, I felt fear. I wondered if I could, if I was worthy, even capable. I thought that surely there were others more qualified than I. Then, as God always does, God settled my fears and whispered into my heart those words that have brought me into service countless times in my life: I am with you. My mind had a snarky reply: You’d better be! Of course God was, is, and ever will be. I serve a local church where God permeates everything, even the physical space. God is manifest in our worship, our love for others, our service in the name of Jesus Christ, and our intense desire to reflect the grace by which we have been saved. No amount of sin, failure, or mistakes can stop Christ from being at work in the Church, or those of us who call the Church our home.
I have been plagued by the thoughts and fears of what might happen to the denomination that has been a part of my life from the very beginning of it. The United Methodist Church has finally called the question on human sexuality, and will convene a special called General Conference, that global meeting of Methodists, usually reserved for every four years, but will now take place in February 2019. Many of us wait with bated breath to see what will happen. There are fears of breaking, splitting, fracture, and dissolution. Considering how much I love the United Methodist Church personally, I am keenly aware of those fears, feeling them myself. Yet I give thanks to God that no fear can stop the work of the Church. As God says, “I am with you.”
Yesterday I gathered with fifteen clergy for their first Provisional meeting since being commissioned during worship at the Virginia Annual Conference in June. They vary in age, reflect a range of seminary and educational experience, are diverse in ethnic and gender, and yet are all equally committed to this call from God to serve the Church in the specific role of clergy. They refuse to let fears and talk of a denominational break stop their servant leadership, even when their ordained colleagues speak of it incessantly. Thank God for that kind of fearless commitment to the journey, to the Church, and to Jesus Christ. They reminded me that God is with us, not just in the presence of the Father in our consecrated, sacred spaces, or as the Son when two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, or even in the movement of the Holy Spirit, but in those who bear the mantle of clergy to serve the Church, and ultimately that parish known as the world.
My life experience has countless examples of God reassuring while my spirit was assailed by fear, and God providing what I needed to move from merely surviving to thriving with confidence in the exhortation of Jesus not to be afraid (John 14:27). My Lord who refused to be stymied by disciples who could not comprehend his messianic mission, fell victim to fear, and fled in the face of the suffering and death at the cross. I cannot help but think that by creating the opportunity to be on this faith walk with these Provisionals, God has once again given me a stronghold and gift of assurance to carry me through this time of prayer and waiting to discover the future of my cherished United Methodist Church.
You may not be physically present with us when we gather, but believe me when I tell you that God is doing something there for the good of Christendom, and no threat to my beloved denomination will prevent God’s will from prevailing. God still calls good and faithful servants to lead. God still nurtures them into the servant leaders we need. God will not abandon us, and God remains greater than any denomination. If like me you call yourself a Christian, and seek to fulfill your call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then trust me when I proclaim that the future looks bright indeed. I have seen it in the faces of those who will lead when I am gone, and my heart is not just warmed, it burns with gratitude to God. There’s no room for fear, as it has been replaced with greater faith in Christ.