I intentionally describe myself as a lifelong Virginia Methodist. I was baptized at the font of Fieldale Methodist Church, a small village church on the Danville District, and confirmed as a member of Fieldale United Methodist Church. The denomination changed a little bit during that time. Today, home is the village of Montpelier in Western Hanover County, the country suburbs of the Richmond District. The church is Duncan Memorial UMC in Ashland. And the denomination continues to change. Yet now more than ever, I consider myself United Methodist to the core.
Since I was a teenager, I have taught Sunday School, sung in the choir, led mission activities, filled the pulpit and served in leadership roles on the local church, district, conference and general church levels. It was in that small church in Fieldale that I was encouraged to use my gifts and graces to explore all the ways that God might be calling me through my relationship with Jesus Christ to be an authentic disciple, a lifelong learner who hopefully influences others to serve and grow in their discipleship. It was also in that small church that I felt a call to ordained ministry.
Yet in 1982 when I sat with my pastor to begin exploring that call, I received a response that took me years to process fully: an acknowledgement that he would not support me or any young woman in entering ordained ministry. The years of discernment that followed made me more committed to becoming the best lay person I can be.
At this time in the life of the denomination and especially the Virginia Conference we are called to build trust as we listen to each other’s stories and seek understanding, not to be fearful or anxious of change. We are called to offer a model of servant leadership that will motivate others to positive action – all as we attempt to figure out who we are and how we move forward during this season of liminality. Until we become bold and courageous enough to make our priority the understanding that we “are summoned and sent by Christ to live and work together in mutual interdependence and to be guided by the Spirit into the truth that frees and the love that reconciles,”* we will not plant new churches. We will not grow existing churches. We will not renew individual souls. Until we truly live what we say we believe, we will only continue to show the world a church that is so inwardly focused that we can’t see the needs of our communities.
The ways we each respond to God’s call upon our lives are unique and varied, yet one thing is absolutely clear. We are all – as the “laos,” the whole people of God – called by our baptisms to be ministers. I pray that I will always be open to the call that God places upon my life at each new stage.
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* Quoted from Part IV: The Ministry of All Christians, Section II, ¶131. The Unity of Ministry in Christ, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016 (p. 98)