Equipping the Saints
Somerville First United Methodist Church bears witness to the long history of the Wesleyan movement in the United States. Being on the western edge of the state of Tennessee, it wasn’t until the 1820’s that the Circuit Riders began to make regular appearances, but there were Methodists present and meeting as neighbors before the Circuit Riders appeared. I will say with confidence that there was not a lot of detail in the doctrinal discipline of those earliest meetings for Christian worship, although there was harmony of belief in the “identity” of being a Methodist.
There was in the earliest moment of gathering for worship an “equipping of the saints,” and a community of expression of a theological witness guiding “Christian behavior” and a community moral code. I have witnessed that discipline directly having read the Circuit Minutes from a church I served in Western Kentucky. The quarterly meeting in the late 1830’s listed an expulsion from the church a fellow, after several warnings, who continued to horse trade on Sundays.
We certainly are living in a different age now, but the “discipline” of the church is and always has been about the “equipping of the saints” for life in the Christian community. The distinctive difference of the Wesleyan movement from other denominations worldwide has been expressed in the
“practical divinity” John Wesley guided his societies to practice.
We are at a historic crossroad in our church now. For several Quadrennials (the four year periods between General Conferences), the United Methodist Church has struggled to define he particulars of the demands of “discipline.” While that struggle has been mostly identified with understandings of the Biblical condemnation of homosexual practice, there are other fundamental differences of opinion on how e organize and “equip the saints” for the Christian Ministry and Mission.
On August 11th at 6:00 p.m., we will have a “Meeting of the Whole Church”, with the first priority being to identify and recruit members, and for some committees allowing for non-members who wish to participate, in a “Revitalizing” of our work areas.
People do not long endure meetings only for the purpose of the meetings, so our goal is to establish a revived channel for involving our members and friends in the work of the saints.
I expect our conversations to be practical as we look at the state of our fellowship and plan for our future. In conversations with the leaders of our church, I sense a yearning for a plan that guides our ministry through the challenges before us coming to understand who we are.
There will be changed in the United Methodist Church: that is certain. Our theological and practical task is to share our foundational values and prepare to live as a congregation within different structures.
I have had the experience of Methodism in different structures and can confidently say that we do need administrative authority to guide our efforts. In England, for example, the Methodists do not have bishops, but there are structures for administration meant to be much closer to the members of the individual churches. There is in England a robust examination of ministries and “holy conversation” at the annual meeting of the church. There is a clear mechanism for training, ordaining, and deploying ministers.
Our organizing ourselves for the coming change offers a deep, perhaps even delightful, opportunity to dream dreams and express visions that the Scripture calls is to experience and be witnesses of in our community. Let us be bold in our confidence of God’s guidance. Let us be honest in our mistakes and short fallings. Let is repent for our lack of courage.
In equipping and mentoring, and in our sharing, let us equip ourselves as the saints of Methodism in Somerville for our blessings and the blessings of future generations.
Peace and Grace as we find our way with God’s guidance,
Rev. Brent Porterfield