Recent opportunities to converse with persons who feel called to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church, and to attend a conference at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas with 2400 other United Methodists who care about the future of the church, have helped to remind me of why I am a United Methodist. Possibly the key reason is a theological one: John Wesley, whose efforts to live a faithful Christian life earned him the name we still bear, taught an expansive understanding of grace.
Based on his reading of scripture and his personal experience, Wesley saw that God’s grace goes before us, reaching out to us and caring for us even before it occurs to us to seek for God. He understood that God’s grace welcomes and assures us of forgiveness when we turn to God for acceptance and a new beginning. He celebrated that God’s grace works in us over time to help us more fully reflect the light and love of Christ in the world. Wesley gave each of these three “movements” of grace a name. He referred to prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. Wesley’s terms were meant to convey that God’s grace encompasses every phase of our lives and every part of our spiritual journey. He described and demonstrated that the life of faith melds grace and good works in a way that relies on God and partners with God.
As the United Methodist Church continues to try to navigate tensions between visions of the church that have different ways of prioritizing strongly held values, we can be glad for God’s grace. We can be glad that many wise and compassionate people are working to find a gracious way forward which honors United Methodist commitments to justice, unity, and covenant. In the words of Bishop Kenneth Carter, the grace of God invites us to a mission in the world that is “spacious, generous, and unafraid.”
I am glad to share in ministry with you!