Back in the day, when I was maybe middle school-ish age, I did the confirmation thing at my United Methodist Church, the one I had been at since I was a baby. I don’t remember a whole lot about the classes I took, but I do remember laughing a lot with my friends during class, (maybe explaining the first statement). After we had been in these classes for several weeks, it was almost Confirmation Sunday.
Before being confirmed, we had to meet with the pastor, who would ask us if we wanted to be confirmed in the United Methodist Church. I hadn’t given it much thought, but decided to roll with the norms of “church kids” my age and do it. So when I sat down with the pastor, he asked me how the confirmation experience was for me. I remember answering “kind of life changing”, which yielded a fairly surprised expression from my pastor. I went on to explain what I had meant, and then told him that yes, I did want to be confirmed.
Ever since that day, I haven’t been able to forget my “life changing” response. Whenever I look back to my Methodist journey, that’s one of the moments which sticks out, mostly because I don’t understand why I would have said that. Like I mentioned, I couldn’t tell you any of the curriculum I studied, and nothing felt any different that Sunday when I stood by the altar to say my vows and get prayed over. The only conclusion I can come to, is that maybe, God was putting words in my mouth, creating a catalyst for my future in the church.
Today, I have told God that okay, I’ll accept this call to ordained ministry that God’s given me. I’m working towards becoming a Certified Candidate, and waiting to hear from my seminary options. Wanna know why I’m doing all of these? I’ll tell you.
I’m going to be a pastor. No, not “like a woman pastor”, just a pastor. Future reference: Please only call me a female pastor if you’re going to call them male pastors. I’m not going to be a nun either, that’s quite a bit different. In experiences I’ve encountered, people aren’t as familiar with the world of progressiveness as the one I was fortunate to be raised in. Never had I ever batted an eye when I went to church and saw a female preaching. That’s one reason why I’m United Methodist.
Recently, I’ve learned that it’s a big deal for some. A past coworker of mine holds a pretty strong fundamentalist view on men being the “leaders”. I approached him about it one day, and told him I knew this was the way he felt about women in leadership. He told me that this was just true for the majority of women, like 95% of them, and that the ones who weren’t so emotionally driven, (he mentions myself and my best friend as examples), he would be fine having in a leadership position. Though I appreciate the potential sentiment that I’m not “emotionally driven”, I feel sad that some people or groups still see gender before personality, strengths, or even God’s call.
As we are in this season of fighting for marriage equality, it’s a similar experience for me. For probably 10 years at least, my church has had an LGBT group active and public, reaching out to those who have felt left out, confused, or hurt by people and churches. Again, I’ve never considered the idea of not allowing those who identify as gay to be married anymore than I’ve considered not allowing a man and a woman to marry. For me, as a person who is not going to be involved in any marriage but my own, I don’t understand why society feels that their “duty” is to tell someone else to live their life, gay, straight, or otherwise. More than that though, it comes down to God’s love. Jesus loved and accepted every single person, as if they were equally awesome, so how can we justify condemning any group of people for being who God made them to be? I don’t get it. But, being part of a denomination who affirms that God’s unconditional love is the top priority is why I’m United Methodist.
Have you ever been in a job interview where the employer asks you the notorious question; “What is your biggest weakness”? You are suddenly faced with the decision to either be honest and say it, with the risk of not getting the job, or to cover up your weaknesses, and instead convert a positive to a negative. I go with the latter, something to the affect of being a workaholic, and struggling to make time to relax. Either approach one chooses, they are leaving out substance about who they are as a person. Clearly, nobody is perfect, so why do we try and put that impression out there in our place of work, rather than focus on how to improve ourselves?
I’ve seen churches act in similar ways. The congregation comes in on Sunday, dressed in fancy clothes, smiling and laughing during the fellowship time. A sermon is preached, telling us how to help those who are “done for” because they don’t have a relationship with God “like we do”. Looking into the seats, the world of this church looks as if each attendee is perfect. In reality, half the members are falling asleep because of the minimal sleep they had to work with, a couple found out their relatives have cancer, a young girl’s dog died last week, and a handful of people are unemployed and struggling to put food on the table.
My problem with this perceived image of perfection is that it isn’t real. We are not perfect, not in the least. Not a day goes by where I don’t worry or doubt or show anger towards someone who doesn’t deserve it. Why does walking into church Sunday morning suddenly change all my actions? Yes, I know I’m forgiven for all of it, but it still doesn’t mean I am suddenly this poster child for Jesus-like living. I’m still a mess.
What I’ve been taught, and believe to be true, is that there’s no better place to go, broken down and hurt, than church, a community of Jesus lovers who have been where you have been. You don’t read your bible as often as you should? Me neither. You lied to get out of a parking ticket? Someone’s been there too. You think your head will explode if your kid talks back one more time? Talk to my parents. They’ve definitely been there.
Church is a place where nobody should have to hide. My church is a place where this is a reality. We are allowed to come as we are, (pastors included), and do not have to “check ourselves at the door”. We can help each other to grow, while also realizing that there are days or weeks, or years when the growth just doesn’t happen like we want it to. This is why I’m United Methodist. I know my imperfection can be an asset to those around me, and I am not afraid to say, “Hey, I’m not perfect either. Wanna be friends?”.
Want to know, in a nutshell, why I’m United Methodist? Well, it is because I can be who I am, every single day, without question. I can come as I am, because I know I’ll be treated the same. No matter if I’m a man or woman, gay or straight, rich or poor, happy or sad, I am confident that I will be greeted at the door by someone who “gets it”, week after week. And I know, that when I’m ready to talk to someone about something I’m going through, they aren’t there to judge me, but rather, to listen to and love me, no questions asked.
This is why I’m United Methodist.