Does it really matter?

Lutheran crossWe interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this breaking news: Joan and I attended church yesterday.

But not just any church. We attended a (wait for it…) LUTHERAN CHURCH!

And after the service, we turned our heads, looked at each other, and said, nearly simultaneously, “Hey… that was really nice! We should come here again.”

The reason this qualifies as headline breaking news is that I have considered myself a dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool United Methodist for as long as I can remember. It is the faith I was born into, confirmed in, married in (twice), and ordained to preach in.

The origin story of the Methodist movement – midwifed into the world by brothers John and Charles Wesley – speaks to my soul. Its liturgies and worship styles comport with my ecclesial leanings perfectly… just enough ritual “pomp” to signify the gravitas of the worship moment, but not so much as to be suffocating. Its heritage of social justice advocacy resonates with the guidance of my own conscience.

There are so many things about the United Methodist way of being a Jesus follower that strike exactly the right tone with me. And yes, I am of the generation to whom denominational labels actually mean something.

And yet… the recent behavior of my “home” denomination has caused me to question whether the United Methodist Church really deserves my permanent allegiance.

Faced with the destinal (and yes, I am declaring that this IS a real word) moment of planting itself wholly on the side of justice and letting the institutional chips fall where they may, United Methodism waffled.

Rather than choosing to forge a polity that said, “All means all,” leaders of the church instead chose to say, “Let’s just fashion this really big, morally beige umbrella where those who support inclusion and those who oppose it can all exist under it together. Let’s keep the family together, no matter what kind of pain that inflicts on the children.”

So that is one HUGE reason I am a lot less infatuated with United Methodism these days.

And honestly, I am also still stinging from a world of hurt that was inflicted upon me at the end of my next-to-last appointment. If you know anything about church life, you know there is always a lot of pain being inflicted at any given moment… some intentional, some not. For me, the wounds were deep and lasting and still bring a sour taste to my mouth when I think about the place where it all happened.

I guess the question I find myself faced with in the end is: does it really matter?

That is, does it really matter if I call myself a United Methodist follower of Jesus, or a Lutheran follower of Jesus, or a Seventh Day Adventist follower of Jesus, or a “Frisbiterian” follower of Jesus (this is a sect invented by a Frisbee-throwing friend of mine who posited that when we die, our souls just fly up and get stuck on the roof)?

I think we can all agree that the answer is no… it really doesn’t matter.

In fact, if we look closely at the evidence in scripture, it would be hard to find evidence that Jesus himself had any real preference for how we might choose to follow him. When he said (in John 14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” I believe he was more inviting us to emulate his relationship with God rather than subscribe to a set of formal religious doctrines.

Our journey from “the one Church, apostolic and universal” to today’s eleventy-billion shades of the Christian faith does a lot to promote the understanding that choosing a faith community is all about finding the right “fit”.

But is “fit” really “it”?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But it sure is hard to stay on the journey when you’ve got blisters on your feet.

2 Responses to “Does it really matter?”

  1. 1 Jeanne Bill Casey
    December 12, 2019 at 11:56 pm

    Pastor Russell, I am so glad that the blogs started again after your move to Colorado. I was missing them. This writing is great. We went through the split at Stanley Presbyterian and in looking for a new church we chose Heritage, because of you. Bill and I always thought that you were forced to leave there and, being new members of 9 months, we had no idea why. I just had a bad feeling about everything. I am so sorry you were hurt badly and just want to say we only attended Heritage services 3-4 times after Pastor Mic came. He just wasn’t a good replacement for you at all in our opinion. We have gravitated back to being Presbyterians because they do make you feel like “all means all”. We do believe, however, that we will never feel as welcome anywhere as YOU made us feel at Heritage. That welcome feeling was not there after you left.

    I, personally, wish you were still my pastor. Bill has now been diagnosed with dementia. We know this could easily become Alzheimers as one of his brothers lived with that for 7 years. So, one day at a time and a lot of prayers. In October my younger sister (only sibling) was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer metastasized to the liver. So, one day at a time and a lot of prayers. I really believe having you for a pastor would be a big comfort right now, and I know you were a comfort for all your parishioners who needed you.

    Does it really matter if you call yourself a United Methodist follower of Jesus, or a “???????” follower of Jesus? No, it doesn’t. I wear a bracelet everyday that helps me these days. On it is written “Light – Love – Power – Presence”. Those words stand for “The Light of God surrounds us, the Love of God enfolds is, the Power of God protects us, the Presence of God watches over us. Wherever we are, God is also”.

    We wish you and Joan great health and happiness in your new home, and a very Merry Christmas.

    Jeanne & Bill Casey


    • December 14, 2019 at 3:00 am

      What a sweet, lovely response. You brought tears to my eyes! I think it is not uncommon for any pastor to regularly ask themselves, “Does anything I am doing make any difference at all?” Your very kind note is a welcome assurance that at least two people noticed my ministry! I am so sorry to hear about Bill’s diagnosis and about your sister’s health challenge. That is some really hard stuff to have to be dealing with. I am sure you will be the supportive caretaker you need to be, but please be sure to take care of yourself in the process.

      We are finally settling in here somewhat, so I feel I can take a little time off from unpacking boxes to jot a blog post or two. It really feeds my soul, so I need to keep at it.

      Blessings to you and Bill and the rest of your family during this season. I am glad you have found yourselves a church home that fits.

      – Russell

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