I’m not sure about the rest of you all, but for me the last four months have flown by! It seems like it was just a short time ago that I was walking through the doors of Hayes Barton as the new Associate Pastor for the first time. My heart and soul were filled with hope and joy for where the Holy Spirit was leading my path in ministry. Yet I must admit that there was also a fair amount of trepidation and uncertainty as I stepped into this new role. This is a large congregation. The life experiences of its members vary widely. We all come from different family backgrounds and traditions. We each have a unique way to reason and think about the world around us and why things happen the way they do. All of these things influence the way we encounter and experience God in Scripture. With many people and just as many perspective that gather together as Christian disciples at Hayes Barton, it is unlikely that any of us will ever think or approach a given topic in the same way. That being said, entering in this place as someone that is called to be a spiritual leader and guide can be a daunting task! What will happen if I say something that contradicts the way another person has experienced God in their life? Will my tradition of Christian discipleship challenge another person’s? Can I trust my own ability to reason knowing that it likely differs from someone else? These concerns are present while also trying to trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the things we say and the decisions we make in life and in ministry.
John Wesley, the founder of what we today call the United Methodist Church, saw the core to living a Christian life was in Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. These four foundations of Christian life, referred to as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, is a theological way to think about and define our Christian life and faith. We hold God’s Word in Scripture as the foundation and primary guide to the decisions we make and the way in which we live our lives. Following Scripture, and in no particular order, we look to tradition for an example as to how the Church has lived out God’s calling to discipleship over the centuries. The ways in which we experience God in our lives and in the world influences the ways in which we look for and discern God’s presence in future situations. Reason is a tool to help us dig through a particular obstacle or theological issue we are faced with. Wesley recognized during his life that individuals have the quadrilateral available to them in order to navigate as a disciple in the world. The same is true for us today. Although we can find many similarities between us (we read the same words in Scripture, we worship the same God in the same place, we live in relatively close proximity) the way in which we reason, our experiences, and our tradition make it so we will probably not come to the same conclusion about any given topic or situation.
It is in this reality that everything any of us do or say can easily be contested. John Wesley knew this a couple hundred years ago. I knew it too as I began my ministry at Hayes Barton almost four months ago. Yet Wesley also knew that we were stronger as a united body, appreciating differences in each other. One of my favorite sayings of Wesley is “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” By binding ourselves together in the love and grace of God, we can be a bright light of Christ in the world and share this love and grace with others. We could spend our entire lives arguing about ideological differences. If were to allow ourselves to do so we would not have any time to live as Jesus Christ taught us to live. The hungry would go unfed, the homeless would remain without shelter, and the sick and imprisoned would remain alone without a visitor. Most importantly, we would not have time to worship God and be thankful for the gift of Creation, for the blessing of forgiveness, and for the miracle of resurrection and eternal life.
All of that being said, in my four months at Hayes Barton, with all of its diversity of people and perspectives, I am so grateful for the similarity in the way everyone loves alike. I think John Wesley would be proud! With this diversity, each of us brings a unique and important element to the Body of Christ that is this church. Yet we can carry out our mission and calling to be disciples Jesus Christ and transform the world because we love alike. I have experienced this love firsthand and for it I am continually grateful. I pray that this day and always, we may continue to “be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.” I believe that this gives us a glimpse of heaven on earth! For this, may glory be brought to God.
With Peace and Love, Adam