A Place to Belong! A Truth to Believe! A Way to Become!

On July 1, Ashish and I (and our families) will officially begin our third year at UMCL! Happy anniversary to us!
In the United Methodist Church, pastors are appointed each year by the area Bishop. Every appointment is for one year at a time. I describe this process as, “having a one-year contract with the option to renew.” At Annual Conference in June, Ashish and I were both re-appointed to UMCL for July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020.
Saying I’m in my third year somehow feels more substantial than being in year one or two. For the first year and a half, it seemed like I was often refered to as the “new” pastor. Being “new” got old after a while. I’m glad to see the “new” description to have been mostly dropped. Dropping the “new” makes me feel like I belong.
I came to UMCL believing that God wanted me to be here, so in that sense I knew I “belonged” here. And certainly the overwhelmingly positive response to our arrival here made us feel accepted and loved. But now that we’re entering “year three” I have a sense of belonging in being connected to people, being accepted, being part of the group. There are still names that I do not know, and history of which I am unaware, but I’m glad to be part of such a beautiful community. In a society where people move so often, where we rarely spend our adult lives in the same community in which we grew up, there is a great need to feel like we belong.
Feeling like we belong really comes from building relationships. The Biblical word for this is “oikos.” Oikos relationships are the kind where we walk through valleys together, where we find support, where a trusted friend will tell us lovingly when we’ve screwed up, where we can be honest with each other and know we will still be loved.
This deep community does not happen if we only interact for an hour on Sunday morning. That’s why it’s so important to be involved in a small group or a ministry. Whether you sing in the choir, or serve as an usher, or you are in a Sunday school class or a UMW circle, whether you serve on a committee or go on a mission trip, we all need to be building faith-based relationships.
A recent Barna survey indicated that Americans frequently interact with each other about their religious beliefs and experiences, but seldom actually change their behavior. The survey reviewed the behavior of Christian adults over a five year period. Even more disturbing is the survey result that more people changed their behavior by moving away from the church than toward it. Only 7% of respondents said they had made a change in their life
that was identified as developing a positive Christian behavior. But 16% of survey respondents said the change in their behavior was away from the church, praying less, reading the Bible less, or generally “decreasing religious activity.” So, it is not enough for us to be a place to belong; we also have to be a place to “become.” We can build on our sense of belonging to encourage each other to become more of what God wants us to be.
But, it is the “truth to believe” that ultimately binds us together and moves us on toward God’s vision for ourselves. Because God came to us as one of us in Jesus; because of Jesus’ love and forgiveness; because of the strength available to us each day through the Holy Spirit; we have the chance to be new people and partners with God in making this world more of what God intends it to be.
A Place to Belong. A Truth to Believe. A Way to Become.
I believe UMCL embodies all of this. And I am grateful for it. But it’s up to all of us to engage in the process of belonging, believing, becoming!