My current appointment, Shady Grove, has decided to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. I have made the decision to stay. There are so many reasons why.
I have often shared the story of how I became part of The United Methodist Church as a child. I wasn’t raised in the church, but Jesus pursued and found me when I was 13 years old in Zimbabwe. I was welcomed into the church -- loved and cared for and sent to school -- and I experienced amazing, amazing love that I had never experienced before. My home church is a United Methodist church in my village. So when I think of all those who have gone before me -- those who are already in glory and who welcomed me when I was 13 – it’s because of those people that I have made the decision to stay.
That’s number one of the reasons why I am staying.
The second reason is: The UMC has been a means of grace for me throughout my life. I have been nurtured and discipled, and I have invited many others into this community. Yesterday I was looking back, and I realized I have celebrated and administered more than 2,000 baptisms, both in Zimbabwe and in the United States. I have personally been a part of the lives of all those disciples of Jesus and their families, baptizing them as children, youth and adults, including leading so many through confirmation classes where they had to take vows. That’s a big reason for me to say that I am staying.
The third reason for me is the connection. As a pastor in Zimbabwe, I was a recipient of mission teams coming to serve alongside us in our communities. As a pastor in the United States, I have led many mission teams back to Zimbabwe. I have been invited to speak at many churches about Ishe Anesu and the thousands of mission kits that Holston Conference sends to Zimbabwe every year. So I have firsthand experienced the blessing of how we can all serve together. That connection is so real to me as a United Methodist pastor in my 27th year of ministry, and I want to continue in that tradition.
The fourth reason comes back to my story. I grew up poor, and the UMC offered me an opportunity to come out of that experience. There was no way, no way I could have afforded to go to Africa University without The United Methodist Church giving me that hand. I went to Africa University for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, to Duke Divinity School for a master's in theology, and to Asbury Theological Seminary for a doctorate in theology – all with United Methodist scholarships. My wife and sons also received scholarships. I want my children to continue this legacy so they can bless others. That’s the story I will tell my children, and if I ever have grandchildren, that’s the story I will share with them.
Finally, I have this big conviction that I am still needed and wanted in the UMC. I am conservative in my theology, and there’s room for me to be in ministry here, to serve God and love his people, and to invite others in. I have been part of the discernment process at Shady Grove, and I tell you, every meeting reaffirmed for me why I needed to stay in The United Methodist Church. And my congregation understood that. I love them, and they love me. I am celebrating their future, and they are celebrating mine.
I will stay with the UMC. There is no other way.
Other stories in this series:
Part 1: Vickie Rogers: "I took my membership vows seriously"
Part 3: Tracy Gormley: "I don't think we should be excluding anybody"
Part 4: Joanna Corvin - "Our faith is ingrained in how we live"
Part 5: Eli Bray - "I believe God is calling me to serve here"
Part 6: Rev. Jason Mullins - "I am proud of our effort to be a community"
If you wish to share your "Why I Stayed" story, please email email@example.com. Holston Conference includes member churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia, with main offices in Alcoa, Tennessee. Sign up for a free email subscription to The Call.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
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