You know it when you feel it. And, just as importantly, you know it when you don’t.
A number of displaced United Methodists are gaining insight into how it feels to be accepted and safe as they seek to find new church homes after their congregations voted to disaffiliate from the denomination. What they’re learning may offer guidance to others seeking to offer radical hospitality within the church.
‘Let me show you the elevator’
Martha Whitley, 86, visited Mt. Sterling United Methodist Church after her congregation disaffiliated. The first Sunday she visited, she noticed that it was necessary to climb a few steps to go into the sanctuary.
As she entered the narthex, an usher greeted her, asked her name, then kindly pointed out the nearby elevator that would assist in reaching the sanctuary.
“I’m very mobile now, but I’m glad to know it’s there if it’s a concern in the future,” Whitley shared. “It wasn’t offending but rather offering help if needed.”
Whitley says the elevator story is one example of the welcoming atmosphere at Mt. Sterling UMC. The church is a North Star congregation in the West Ohio Conference, indicating its commitment to remain United Methodist.
Whitley has now joined Mt. Sterling UMC, one of more than a dozen people who have become members there in recent months.
Putting the warmth in welcome“Warmth” is a word that June Allen says often when describing her experience at Scioto Ridge United Methodist Church, another North Star congregation. Allen, 83, left the church she had attended for 50 years when it disaffiliated.
“It was the warmth and it was the welcoming,” Allen reiterates as to why she and her husband joined Scioto Ridge UMC, where they are active in the seniors group and Allen is a member of the church’s United Women in Faith chapter.
“It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve looked forward to going to church,” Allen admits. “In the past, I felt going to church was an obligation from my upbringing.”
“Members made it a point to tell us how happy they were that we had chosen to visit and how they hoped we would decide to join them. We were never made to feel like outsiders in any way,” said Lynne Anthony, 80, of her first visit to Mt. Sterling UMC.
“I just really can't emphasize enough how helpful and welcoming the clergy and members have been during a difficult time, because it is difficult to leave a church you were a part of for so many years,” Anthony shares. “Everyone is very authentic and not trying to impress anyone else.”
Acceptance is key
Feeling accepted was a priority to Joan Hardin as she sought a new church home.
“I felt as if I had lost an old friend,” Hardin says about leaving her church after disaffiliation. “I knew that I wanted a church that accepted all people and I wanted to attend with others that shared the same values.
“Walking in at Mt. Sterling, people spoke to you and had smiles on their faces. I felt at home.”
“Nobody asked about theology or ideology,” says Brian Ream, who joined Mt. Sterling UMC with his wife, Becky. Brian, who was baptized in the Methodist Church as an infant 68 years ago, wanted to join a church where Wesley’s three simple rules were in practice (Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.) as well as some longtime United Methodist radical hospitality initiatives.
“We used to have Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors. But all those things were gone (at my other church)," Brian Ream admits. "At Mt. Sterling, I feel accepted for who I am.”
Crystal Caviness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email.
This story was published on August 24, 2023.