Why am I UMC?
By: Pastor Cindy Hickman
#BeUMC. That’s the slogan The United Methodist Communications has adopted. We are seeing it a lot.
At this crossroads moment in our denomination, I stopped to ask myself “Why am I UMC?”
The answer comes automatically. I can sum it up in one word: grace. I am UMC because grace is at the core of who we are. And grace is what I need.
Grace is “the undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit” according to the umc.org website. According to Bishop Will Willimon grace is "the power of God working in you to give you a transformed life." According to me, is it the love of God greeting me each morning. It is love in all its iterations: forgiveness, mercy, acceptance, justice, kindness, compassion, understanding, friendship, peace, tenacity, commitment and more that I continue to learn.
I am UMC because in the UMC we understand our faith through the lens of grace. We could approach our faith through a lens of sin, or judgment, or adherence to doctrine. But it’s grace for us. A UM friend of mine once said “You know there is one thing God can’t do. God can’t stop loving us.” We live with that assurance and all that we are and all that we do is in response to the ever-present love of God.
Count me in.
For me, this grace business begins with Jesus. During his three years of ministry, he encountered person after person, and he always accepted them. He listened. He healed. He fed. He answered their questions and asked questions that caused them to ponder. He told us the greatest commandment was to love God. The second was to love our neighbors. He lived as though he was fueled by grace. To us, he was and is grace incarnate.
John Wesley didn’t set out to establish a denomination, but he did. The UMC is his legacy. Following his example, we Methodists have our “means of grace,” methods we use to welcome grace into our lives. We pray. We read scripture. We conference together. We serve. We worship. We share in Holy Communion and in all this and more we open our lives to grace.
The Holy Spirit used grace to form us as a church. John Wesley said, “If your heart is as my heart, take my hand” and we did. Each church became a mission site where hand-in-hand grace was shared.
When I walk into any UMC church, I know within minutes someone will talk about some sort of ministry that is underway in the church to care for the world outside the church. Just inside the door, I might find a place to donate food. If it is winter, coats and mittens are being gathered. During the service, we will sing about Jesus and then during prayer time, someone might stand and invite everyone to next summer’s mission trip. The preacher is not afraid to talk about the ills of the world, racism, human oppression, the destruction of the environment, and things we believe God cares about. United Methodists are interested in the world. They want to learn more about it, and they want to serve. That’s all in response to grace. God loves us. God loves everyone. We UMC’ers want to share that message and we do it by serving.
We are a compassionate bunch. Our hearts break when we learn of the heartbreak and tragedies of others. And when others share a joy—a new baby, a high school graduation, a new job, our hearts soar. We clap our hands in delight. That too is the work of grace.
Beware of grace. It is powerful stuff. As Willimon said, it leads to a transformed life. Grace works on us, chipping away sharp edges. As we have been forgiven, we forgive. As we have experienced mercy, we offer mercy to others. We become better human beings, our lives looking more like Christ’s, through the work of grace.
Is the UMC perfect? No. We stumbled. We cower. We disagree. We disappoint. We can be grumpy and cranky. We get anxious and allow our anxiety to keep us from fully living. We sometimes lean back when we should lean in. We can become entrenched, protecting our institutions as though that is our mission. We can spend so much time looking back that we risk our future. My confession: the most heated arguments I have ever been part of happened in the church.
We can easily forget how powerful grace is and lose our courage. John Wesley is credited with preventing a bloody revolution in England, courage and grace in action. The UMC has a lot of work to do when it comes to poverty, racism, mental health, the environment, and gender violence and discrimination.
But even acknowledging our complacency and imperfection, I have never heard a United Methodist pastor condemn a group of people or pronounce judgment on others. Not ever. Maybe it’s because we are so aware that we are not perfect, that we accept the imperfections of others. We would rather walk with others than condemn. We would rather seek understanding than stand in hateful conviction. Again, it’s grace that sustains us.
And then there are the miracles. I have seen miracles in the UMC. I once saw a visitor enter a UM church just before worship and tell an elderly woman that she had been out of jail for a few days, and had managed to remain sober the entire time. The elder woman gestured toward the sanctuary and said “Would you like to sit with me?” Three years later when mental health issues caught up with the visitor (who had since become a member of the UMC and a regular around the church) the elderly woman wrote to her every week, words of encouragement. I knew a man who spent years struggling with addiction, who got sober, got UMC, and was delighted to bake bread for Communion. One Sunday he stood in his UM church and confessed to the entire congregation that he had backed into someone’s car the previous Sunday and driven away without admitting it. Could the car owner forgive him? Could the church? Yes, they could. Yes, they did. Grace.
Our need for grace is obvious and God is faithful. Grace is the oxygen that fills our lives and the church.
Several decades ago, I walked into a UMC church. Grace met me there and it felt like home. I am BeUMC.