When I found out I would be moving to Charlotte to serve Providence United Methodist Church (PUMC) last summer, I began asking around to get the scoop on what this church is all about. Being from Charlotte, I knew it was settled in a fairly homogenous and affluent area of town. I was worried. I was worried that the people of PUMC would be content with throwing money at problems in our community and nothing more.
What I heard when I asked around was how fortunate I was to be going to this church, how active the congregation is and how “mission-driven” they are. My experience here has been largely consistent with what I was told before I arrived. This church, Providence, is deeply concerned and connected with the community.
In seminary, I learned a big fancy phrase in Latin: Missio Dei. This term refers to the “mission of God” in the world. The idea is that God has always been and is still at work redeeming and renewing all people AND we are invited into this beautiful (and often messy) work. Not only are we invited into it, but we are also a crucial part of it.
God’s grace and love for us was at work in us (and all people) before we recognized it. Once we respond, we are called to be part of that unfolding grace and love for all people.
That is the mission. In everything we do (and don’t do), we are to be taking part in the missio dei, the mission of God to love all people unequivocally.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “mission” over the past week. In light of the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church¹, I feel especially called to focus on what it means to be a missional church. How are we taking part in God’s redeeming love? How are we showing grace, mercy and peace? How are we shining a light into communities that are in need, real need? How are we transforming lives through upward mobility efforts? How are we radically committing ourselves to be like Jesus: touching the “untouchable?” Loving the “unlovable?” Caring for the “widow, immigrant and orphan?”
When we are committed to a mission, focus becomes singular. I know that is overly simplistic, but it’s true too. When we are a missional church, we aren’t bogged down by worries of who will think what. We aren’t tied to the acceptance and approval of those who sit in seats of privilege (like my own). Instead, we are whole-heartedly committed to loving each other. We are committed to hearing and seeing each other. When we truly see each other, we care. We share what we have. We pray. We serve. We go out into our communities and find those whose voices and very identities have been called “bad” or “wrong.”
I want to be clear: I am not saying there isn’t space for a diversity of beliefs on any issue, especially the issue of LGBTQ inclusion in the UMC. I am so grateful for those who have generously and lovingly shared their beliefs with me. I understand that interpreting the Bible today is complicated and each of us will come to our own conclusions through prayer and listening.
I also want to be clear that each of us should be compelled to (in love!) live authentically into our convictions.
My conviction is that regardless of intention, the vote last week (see note below) did harm. Many LGBTQ people are hurting and don’t feel invited or welcome in the United Methodist Church anymore. If I am committed to missio dei, I must be committed to the full inclusion and invitation for all people into a church that boasts of God’s radical grace and love.
I want to be (and I think I am) part of a church that is missional. A church that is singularly focused on being part of God’s unfolding and mysterious grace for all people. A church that is orthodox in belief and shameless in its acceptance of all people. A church that is deeply committed and tied to its community (both locally and globally). A church that prays before speaking, then speaks boldly! A church that acts on its values of love, mercy and justice. A church that has room for a diversity of beliefs — that is committed to each and every person feeling “at home” within and outside of its walls. A church that is tied to “place,” the deep-rooted sense of belonging to and with. A church that “does justice, embraces faithful love, and walks humbly with God” (Micah 6:8, CEB).
I am committed to the inclusion of all people. I really mean “all.” I am committed to my brothers and sisters who find themselves believing more “traditionally” on this issue. I am committed to my brothers and sisters who find themselves believing more “progressively” on this issue. I am committed to not defining any of us by one issue. I am committed to rejecting overly simplistic labels that have caused such harm (such as “progressive” and “traditional”).
I am committed to you. I am committed to missio dei, to seeing God’s love reach all people in real, tangible ways.
I love you. More importantly, God loves you. I want to be with you wherever you are and I hope you can be with me too.
Grace & Peace, Pastor Cole
This picture is of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It’s not at all how we might have expected for him to enter, but that’s just it: Jesus comes in ways that are beyond our knowing and call us into deeper communion with God and all through radical and life-giving love.
Morgner, Wilhelm, 1891-1917. Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54247 [retrieved March 4, 2019]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wilhelm_Morgner_001.jpg
1. That was a mouthful; in short, it was a meeting of the United Methodist Church to decide what we are going to do regarding the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ people. The vote that passed was for a “Traditional Plan” that upheld current language (prohibiting ordination and marriage in United Methodist churches) and strengthening enforcement of these rules.