By Jessica Brodie
If it weren’t for my sister, I’m not sure I ever would have spoken. At least that’s what my mom says. I was a painfully shy child, my nose in a book and hiding from the boisterous world, content to play with my imaginary friends and host tea parties with my dolls. But then along came my little sister, fun-loving and relationship savvy from birth, and that did the trick. Slowly, I began to emerge from my shell. Today, most people are surprised to learn that deep down, I can be rather shy. Outwardly, I seem friendly, outgoing and extroverted. Thanks to my sister, I am better.
It’s same way with my husband. He’s fun and spontaneous and always ready for adventure. Because of him, my sometimes too-serious, organized, planning-focused existence is a lot more carefree, enjoyable and people-oriented.
My mind is on this after our church has just gone through a historic and, to me, upsetting division. Of the 958 United Methodist churches in the South Carolina Conference, 113 have now separated from the denomination (see article, Page 1). That’s 12 percent of us. I grieve these churches even as I bless them on their way. I am happy for them and wish them well, because I know we all must do what the Lord calls us to do, and if they are called to separate, this is what they should do. God will work it out.
But their absence is palpable. To me, one of the best things about the UMC is how strong we are because of our opposing and differing perspectives. From the super-conservative to the extremely liberal, we are a denomination who claims both George Bush and Hillary Clinton as members. Think about that a moment.
I have long believed I am a better person because of the very different people in my life. These people have made me stronger and challenged me. I claim true and deep friends among the youth and the elderly, among all different race and genders and theological and political perspectives. And I like it that way.
I think our church is better because of the differences among us that help us discern God‘s will and keep us from dangerous tunnel vision in the midst of everything. I think it makes us stronger and more adaptable people as well.
I love what the Rev. Ken Nelson said at annual conference this year, how “we don’t have time to play small or to be petty. We don’t have time to be bitter when we can be better.”
I know more churches might wish to separate from the UMC next year. That’s OK. But for those of us who choose to remain, let’s celebrate our differences. Let’s understand that perhaps those differences are what make us a better church and a better representation of God’s vision in the world.
Together, we are God’s mighty church, the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in a broken world. And together we are beautiful.