I’m sure the saints of heaven smiled as we worshipped yesterday. We came together with a combination of much hurt and hope to sing praise, pray together, say the creed, and hear God’s word read and proclaimed. A couple of things stood out to me – as the Spirit moved. I was struck by the altar and how someone had so carefully placed the paraments. It was an obvious act of holy love. Then, a boy came forward with the light, and after lighting the candles, placed the lighter on a hook that someone had attached to the altar. It stuck me that someone thought of this, and it had become a part of the tradition in that church. After the service, I told the boy that he did a good job and he said, “I’m good at this.” He was proud. I thought of those who missed this beautiful act of worship because of the spirit of division. And I was personally moved to not take joys like this granted.
I was also struck by the service itself. This was a congregation that had a history of learning how to get along and make room for each other. This was evidenced by the way we sang hymns and choruses in the same service, with some holding hymnals and others looking at the screen. In our meeting afterwards, I said “I bet there was a conversation at some point about these things.” “Oh yes,” they said, “and we worked through it.” “We would have worked through this as well if we hadn’t been pressured into a vote to divide.” One man lamented, “It just didn’t have to be this way.”
He was right. I’ve seen it too often – when this process for disaffiliation moves to a vote the outcome is division – of congregations, of friends, even of families. As one said, “The devil is the only winner.” I would agree, while also affirming that God can work for good even in the midst of this pain. This group knew that as well. They are determined to be the church in a community that needs this witness.
In this case, the vote was to remain UMC. This was a relief to many, but the heartbreak of division was still very real. Many hope that the divisions will not be permanent, and that reconciliation will occur. They believe that would glorify God.
And in the midst of all of this, we worshipped. And yes, I could hear the saints of heaven rejoicing in my spirit and I could sense God’s comforting, healing, life-giving love. The Holy Spirit was there, perhaps working overtime. Thank you, Fairview UMC in Camden, for your desire to be faithful and fruitful as United Methodist Christians. Seeing this was healing to my heart.