Monday, April 23, 2012

Will We Catch on Fire or Tear Each Other Down?

Dr. Larry R. Hygh, Jr., at the grave of John Wesley
By Dr. Larry R. Hygh, Jr.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Wesley Chapel and the gravesite of John Wesley in London. I am a lifelong United Methodist and a fifth-generation Methodist. Needless to say, I was excited. I was moved to stand in the very place where Wesley preached, lived, and now rests from his labor.

My roots in Methodism began in rural East Texas. My maternal great-great grandfather, Ned Sampson Culbreth Moon, was a freed slave who migrated from Macon, Georgia, to Ore City, Texas. He became a Methodist, and a portion of that side of my family has been Methodist to this day. He is buried with other ancestors in the cemetery of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in Ore City.

There are two familiar Wesley quotes that capture the spirit of Methodism for me:
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."
  • "Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn."
We are days away from the beginning of General Conference 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Lately, I have found myself reflecting on Wesley and what it means to be United Methodist, and particularly how Methodism has shaped and nurtured me.

I grew up in Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Marshall, Texas. It was in Ebenezer (meaning stone of help) where my mother was my first Sunday school teacher. It was at the altar of Ebenezer where I and my nieces and nephew were baptized, where my parents and other family members took their marriage vows for better or worse, and where my family has celebrated the resurrection of those who have joined the Church triumphant.

At Ebenezer, I was taught at an early age about our United Methodist connectional system and I have always believed in its strength and promise. I am a product of, and have been a beneficiary of, our connectional system. Personally, I have seen what we collectively do together that we could not necessarily do in our local setting.

Since I started at Global Ministries in September 2010, I have had the tremendous opportunity to see our Church live out its global nature. I have traveled with delegations to Sierra Leone and Thailand. In Sierra Leone, I witnessed our efforts to distribute bed nets and eradicate malaria through the Imagine No Malaria campaign.

I visited Kissy Hospital and met the medical director who studied in the United States and returned to his native Sierra Leone to serve. He was a former World Communion Scholar (one of our six Special Sundays). In Thailand, I met our missionaries who are working to start an HIV/AIDS ministry. I met our brothers and sisters who are starting new churches in Southeast Asia, some risking their lives to tell the gospel story.

As United Methodists, we do so much more collectively that we could ever do apart.

As we gather in Tampa, what is the Spirit's movement for those coming behind us? What would John Wesley say about the movement that has turned into an institution? Will we as United Methodists continue to do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can?

Will folks gather in Tampa and watch us catch on fire with the Spirit's enthusiasm? Or will they witness us tearing each other down?

I thank God for Wesley, great-great grandpa Ned, and the influence of United Methodism in shaping my life. As we gather in Tampa, I'm reminded of Moses' assurance to Joshua as he becomes his successor: "It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." (Deuteronomy 31:8, NRSV)

Hygh is the Associate General Secretary, Director of Communications, for the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

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