As part of The United Methodist Church's Baptismal Covenant, new members promise to faithfully participate in a local congregation through their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. But, how can they go beyond the words they profess to actually living into these vows? In a special five-part series, we look at each aspect of this membership vow, and how United Methodists can answer the call to serve Christ through the local church.
When 78-year-old Ridge Pilcher joined The United Methodist Church six years ago, she was excited about founder John Wesley's call to service.
"It was not just an addendum; it was part of the major sense of who Methodists are. You don't have a choice. You have to be involved. … Being active in your church means you do, you don't just say. You speak up, you speak out and you walk out, and you do," she said.
In The General Rules of the Methodist Church, Wesley called the early Methodists to live out their faith by "doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all [people]."
"Doing good is a function of confessing Jesus Christ in a community that includes people of all ages, nations and races, as we say in the baptismal vows. All of that is ultimately rooted in Wesley and even more so rooted in the teaching of Jesus, that we find ourselves by giving ourselves," said the Rev. Mark W. Stamm, author of "Our Membership Vows," a Discipleship Ministries resource.
Pilcher quickly became involved at her new church, Havre De Grace United Methodist in Hartford County, Maryland. Members were already providing meals for the homeless so she signed up to help. She also became the site coordinator at her church for an emergency rotating shelter for the homeless in the winter. For a week at a time, the church houses individuals with drug and alcohol addictions who are not able to stay at regular shelters. Pilcher said her first job was convincing members not to be afraid of the homeless.
"When we have an opportunity to know people who live these lives, we are not able to pretend we don't know and must do what we can to change the situations, both for the individuals and the community," she said. "I met the homeless people and a lot of them are my friends. We keep in touch. … They're us. We're together. We connect. And that, for me, is what Jesus did. He didn't have 'those' and 'us.' He had 'we.' "
Serving God and others can take many forms. United Methodist churches offer a variety of service ministries specific to the needs of their local communities. Church members can volunteer to serve on disaster response teams, and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries provides opportunities to serve at home and around the world doing short-term mission work.
Members of all ages can find volunteer opportunities that feed their passions.
The Rev. Victoria Chifeche, executive secretary of United Methodist Women of Mozambique, has made empowering women and girls in the country's rural villages her mission. She said the women there work hard but have limited opportunities.
"They fetch water, collect wood, prepare food, tend the fields, care for children and look after grazing animals. But the majorities have not been taught to read and write," she said.
In her work with United Methodist Women, she teaches them basic skills and offers career development and money management tools to help break the cycle of poverty and inequality. By serving the women in Mozambique, Chifeche said, she is serving God.
"I understand that when I use my time wisely, God will give me more time. … I strive my best to influence his children wisely, therefore God is busy increasing my influence and God has blessed my level of faithfulness so I can be strong to serve him," she said.
For Rob Getman and his wife, Helen, retirement opened up new avenues to serve God. The couple sold their home and purchased an RV to travel together. While they were visiting United Methodist churches around the country, they met NOMADS, Nomads on a Mission Active in Divine Service (or Northern Old Methodists Avoiding Deep Snow, as Getman and others refer to the group).
NOMADS provide volunteer labor for United Methodist organizations. The work ranges from new construction and repairs to outreach missions and disaster rebuilding. The service fit the Getmans' new RV lifestyle and was in line with their previous volunteer experience with youth on mission projects.
For those who think they lack the skills and tools to get their hands dirty, Rob Getman said to leave it to God. "Don't be afraid of your skill level. The groups somehow come together with the skills needed. God will provide. The job will get done."
While service work often provides the opportunity for fellowship, it doesn't necessarily mean packing one more thing into already busy schedules, said Stamm, who is professor of Christian worship at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
"Think of parents who are presenting young children for baptism. They are asked that question about, 'Will you nurture this child?' — basically, 'Will you teach this child the faith?' … I think it's important for them to understand that that work of teaching a child is part of their service. The last thing we want is young parents thinking they need to do one more thing. "
Giving of ourselves and our time is an opportunity to be close to the way of Jesus, Stamm said, adding that, oftentimes, we make service more complicated than it has to be.
"The key to being faithful is showing up — putting our bodies in places that people are in pain; putting ourselves in places where people are lonely; setting another place at the table for someone who is hungry. So much of faithfulness in the Christian life and in the Methodist life is an extension of that. … We find our life in self-giving love."
This feature was originally published November 29, 2017.
Julie Dwyer is a writer and editor for United Methodist Communications. Reach her at [email protected]