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Building bridges: A commentary

Building bridges: A commentary

Commentary Leadership

The following commentary by a Florida Conference pastor and a summer staff intern who come from widely differing cultures share a story about how building bridges and staying at Christ’s table can overcome stereotyping and divisiveness. “We don’t have to be united in our particulars to be united as Methodists.”

Rev. David McEntire

From Rev. McEntire

The Leading Edge is a gathering of United Methodist clergy who serve the 100 largest United Methodist churches in the United States. Reverends Adam Hamilton, Mike Slaughter and others sought to bring together these clergypersons to collaborate in strengthening The United Methodist Church. Among the goals set were committing to begin new faith communities and to encourage and support young adults who are considering ordination in the UMC. In 2013 the Leading Edge pastors met with the presidents of our 13 United Methodist seminaries and the president of Asbury Theological Seminary. It was during our time together that I met Dr. Jeffrey Kuan. Dr. Kuan had recently accepted the presidency of Claremont School of Theology (CST). In an honest conversation with Dr. Kuan, I noted that the tensions between the various jurisdictions are often destructive to the mission of the church. We agreed that building relationships across those boundaries would be helpful. 

I invited Dr. Kuan to visit and preach at the church I serve, First UMC of Lakeland, in January 2014. The congregation warmly welcomed Dr. Kuan and was grateful for his vision and leadership in the UMC. Dr. Kuan and I also committed to taking the next step, having a pastoral intern from Claremont serve with the pastors of our church. In May 2015, Kim Edwards, a candidate for ministry in the Cal-Pac Conference and a recent Claremont graduate, drove from Los Angeles to Lakeland to begin an internship. The congregation came to love Kim and she loved us. In a remarkable building of relationship, we reminded each other that there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism for all who serve Jesus Christ. We put aside the worldly designations that might divide us and found unity in whom we serve. Our calling was to seek the unity that Jesus prays for in John 17:11.

We tearfully said goodbye to Kim in August, 12 weeks after her arrival. She had become an important partner in ministry, and a bridge toward unity had been strongly established. Tensions tend to find resolution when there is strong relationship based on the unity that Christ brings to our lives. Kim, the pastors, staff and members of our church found that unity, and now we have a sister in Christ who is no longer a stranger, despite the distance between us. Kim, in reflecting on her time with us, wrote the following about her journey to Lakeland.

From Kim Edwards

Maya Angelou once said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” I grew up in Redondo Beach, California. That will always be my family home. But I have two new homes that, together, provided me with an entirely different way of living, loving and knowing God.

Kim Edwards

The first is Claremont School of Theology (CST). This is a small, progressive seminary nestled into the base of the San Bernardino mountains, the last city in the county of Los Angeles. My other home is a beautiful, growing church perched at the edge of Lake Morton in the more conservative area of Lakeland, Florida. But this summer, labels such as conservative, liberal, progressive, pro and con, fell aside as we built a strong, hurricane-worthy bridge.

I am the first of what I hope will be an eternity of interns from the West Coast serving at First UMC Lakeland. The idea came to be when Rev. David McEntire approached CST seminary president, Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Kuan. The way David describes it, his idea was simple and his request plain: The Southeastern and Western UMC conferences need to understand each other better. So, one year later, I joined the staff of First UMC, Lakeland, as a pastoral intern for three months.

The idea was to put a face with a place. Now, when I think of Florida, I think of my friends who feel more like family. Whatever stereotypes or labels we placed on each other fell to the wayside. And there we stood: humans who wanted to be loved as we are. Now, that’s not to say we don’t discuss theological differences. We have/had plenty. We listened and learned. And—here’s the key—we all stayed at His table.

Rev. David says, “People may disagree, but I minister to both of them.” I realized this summer that if we can extend each other that same kind of grace, we can minister to one another even when we disagree.

As the global UMC faces a potentially devastating divide in this upcoming General Conference 2016, I wonder if our story might help. Get to know each other before you judge, or answer or condemn. Look into each other’s eyes. See the person. See their story. Feel their hope. Feel their pain. After just three months in Central Florida, this Southern California beach girl found family among the gators and the thunderstorms, and I want to see my family remain whole. We don’t have to be united in our particulars to be United as Methodists.

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