By Jessica Brodie
What does The United Methodist Church mean to you personally?
That’s the focus of a new initiative from the South Carolina Conference of the UMC, which is putting together brief videos sharing reflections from United Methodists on the church and how it impacts their lives and ministry.
Titled “Life Together,” the initiative comes at a time when many are feeling disheartened by the ongoing conflict in the denomination. None of the reflections are political statements but rather personal contemplations of why people appreciate the UMC, both in their youth and today.
The videos address everything from grace, acceptance and diversity to the ability to bring people around the table in conversation amid differing opinions.
The Rev. Smoke Kanipe, pastor of Shandon UMC, Columbia, said he felt honored to contribute a video to the effort.
“I’ve been a Methodist all my life,” Kanipe said. “I grew up in a Methodist Church that became a United Methodist church in 1968 when I was 10, and the UMC has essentially made me who I am.”
Kanipe says everyone has a different slant on why they chose to become or remain United Methodist, and for him, he feels rooted in the church from his days as a camper at the United Methodist Asbury Hills summer camp to his time participating in conference youth work.
“The UMC is not a perfect church. No church is,” Kanipe said. “But in these times of uncertainty and anxiety, we don’t want to lose sight of all the good that goes on.”
Dr. George Ashford, senior pastor at Journey UMC, Columbia, also contributed a video, and he said he hopes it helps inspire and encourage people during a time of transition in the denomination. He said the opportunity to reflect on the church and the call God placed on his life helped him restore his own passion in ministry, and he hopes it does the same for others.
Ashford said his late father, also a pastor, once told him that at one time in his life he needed the church, but we all get to the point when the church needs us, too.
“I have lived that on both ends,” Ashford said, noting how as a young pastor in his first year of seminary, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, yet his church still allowed him to pastor the congregation and was very supportive, even compensating him when he was out for several Sundays. “It meant a lot. Now on the back end of that, I want to make sure I’m responsible and accountable to that same institution.
“What we have begun is still worth fighting for and dedicating our lives toward.”
The Rev. Geneva Stafford, pastor of Francis Burns UMC, Columbia, shared how much it means to her that her church is in her corner, offering love and support from the time she joined. Stafford switched to the UMC from the African Methodist Episcopal Church 40 years ago, after she got married.
“When I tell you this church is a connectional church, I mean that in all sincerity,” Stafford said.
The Rev. Gene Aiken, pastor of Trinity UMC, North Myrtle Beach, said that for him, the UMC is home. In his latest appointment, at Trinity, he said he’s especially learned that the things that bring us together as a church are much greater than the things that divide us.
“I have people here who completely disagree with each other, and yet they come together Sunday morning and they worship the same God and they feel togetherness is more important than anything that can divide us,” Aiken said.
For him, that’s critical.
All said they appreciated being able to express positive and encouraging thoughts about matters of faith—thoughts they hope will inspire and encourage others in turn.
To see the videos, visit https://www.umcsc.org/together.