Monday, February 11, 2008

Guest-Blogging: Julie Holly

Our Conference-wide celebration of United Methodist believing continues with some of our pastors contributing their thoughts on the joy of the Wesleyan way of Christian believing. This week we have thoughts by Julie Holly, Associate Pastor at Huffman United Methodist Church. Julie focuses upon the joy of United Methodist worship, particularly our stress upon the sacraments.

God's Grace through the Sacrament

Every time someone inquires about my interest in and love for United Methodist beliefs and practices, which for us Methodists go hand-in-hand, I immediately think of my experiences of God’s grace through the sacraments. 

My parents raised my sister and me outside the UMC for the first eleven or so years of my life, and those early experiences of church instilled in me a powerful fear of God and the punishment that surely awaited me and everyone else who had yet to decide to submit to the waters of baptism. I had been told in Sunday school that I was a child of God and was loved by Jesus, so I believed myself to be a Christian. As I grew older and started listening to some of what the preacher said in worship, I heard a different story. I heard that I was destined to suffer eternal punishment when I died because I had not been baptized. I learned of my further exclusion from the people of God—also due to my decision to post-pone baptism—when the plates carrying the wafers and tiny cups of grape juice were passed over me during The Lord’s Supper. I was an outsider and the only way for me to get in was to be baptized. As a ten-year-old girl, I wasn’t ready to face the potential risks of getting water up my nose when dunked and being humiliated when the congregation saw me soaking wet afterwards. 

My understanding and experience of God changed when my parents started taking us to the United Methodist Church down the road. There I was introduced in worship and Sunday school to the God of invitational grace. I learned that God is constantly working in me through the power of the Holy Spirit to grow me in love and discipleship. I was shocked and excited at the first Communion Service to hear the open invitation to the Lord’s Table. I finally got a taste of the wafers and juice, and though it didn’t taste nearly as good as I had imagined, it was a delicious experience of inclusion in the Body of Christ. After attending confirmation classes, I was baptized and confirmed in the UMC; and only a few years later as a teenager I was invited by the minister to help serve Communion. I couldn’t believe my ears! Me, a lowly, unworthy teenager allowed to serve the Lord’s Supper? I wondered to myself if this sort of thing was really permitted, but aloud I answered the minister, “Yes!” As I timidly handed out the tiny cups of juice to the kneeling people, I was so full of joy—and so thankful that no one stood up to protest my role in the service—that I couldn’t wait to do it again. I couldn’t wait to experience again the grace of a God who uses even me to share the gift of salvation through Christ!

It wasn’t long after we began attending the UMC that I witnessed my first infant baptism and I was struck by how much sense it made to me. I had believed and felt that I was a child of God long before my baptism so it was interesting to me to be in a church where babies were claimed by God and baptized into the church just a few months after being born. Instead of making children wait to grow up and decide to be baptized, the church claimed them for God first thing. For me, now serving in a local church as a probationary elder in the UMC, participating in the baptism of infants is one of the most powerful and grace-filled experiences of ministry. I love celebrating with the congregation the gift of God’s transforming grace that is at work in all of us as I sprinkle the waters of baptism over the precious head of a new life. Infant baptism reminds us all that life is a gift from God and that we completely belong to God even before we can say, “God”, let alone begin to understand anything about God. That is what I call amazing grace.

Julie Holly

7 comments:

B'ham Billy said...

You go Julie. I'm still angry after hearing our pastor last sunday tell a 1000 or so people that they are probably not saved if they are not tithing 10%. Don't get me wrong I believe in tithing and I believe 10% is probably fair for some. But as you have pointed out a dose of, turn or burn, followed by a dose of grace is like water on parched ground.

d†p said...

Julie,

Very good job on the article!

In my brotherhood (LCMS) we talk often about word and sacrament (akin to your word and table - but including baptism)and it is a focus.

I too moved into a sacramental chruch after years (as a pastor) in a non-sacramental movement. The difference is extraordinary. Primarily because the sacraments (and we include absolution as well) are God's work, not ours. In the non-sacramental world, they talk of these things as our obediene, as opposed to God pouring out His blessing of grace, and the promise of eternity (starting now) in His presence to us!

May you always rejoice when His

William H. Willimon said...

Thank you, Julie

Robert said...

Julie, I think you got JW right in your assessment of God's grace being "invitational." That's a great word that beautifully captures God's stance to those outside the covenant. I wonder, though, how your pre-Methodist experience of insider/outsider might help us recover some integrity in our celelbration of the sacraments in the UMC, which, I'm sure you'll admit, have a tendency to be watered down (pun most definately intended) in our churches.

After all, is there not a reality that there are outsiders to the covenant (i.e., those who have not accepted that grace)? My experience has been that we tend to play down that insider/outsider reality, for fear of "offending" or some other such nonsense, to the point that we communicate to people that it requires no sacrifice or personal transformation whatsoever to become an insider. This is wholly foreign to the ritual of the sacraments themselves. In our historic baptismal rituals, we call strongly for a rejection of evil and adherence to Christ and his Church. In our traditional invitation to the Lord's Supper, we call for "earnest" repentance and peaceful living. Our quickie baptisms and fast-food-style Eucharists, bereft of ritual, bereft of prayers, bereft of any lanugage (acted-out or spoken) that might suggest that following Christ is any more difficult than joining the country club, and executed only with the intention of not making people have to sit or stand too long, I think, have robbed these sacraments of their converting power. Through our watered-down versions we have not said anything significant about God's inviting grace and what it takes to receive that grace.

Along with the recovery of UM beliefs, in the spirit of Willimon's book on UM beliefs, I'd like to see a recovery of UM practices that reaffirm and sustain those beliefs in the hearts and minds of the faithful and would-be faithful, even if people do have to sit just a little longer in worship. If we do it with the creativity that I think our worhship of God demands, then people shouldn't mind the extra five minutes because they will be so moved by the Spirit that lunch will be the last thing on their minds. I think prerequisite to that, however, we pastors must be comfortable with the Scripture's assertion that there are outsiders. And, we must be ready to communicate that reality with the same humility of Paul (Remember that at one time you, too, were strangers to the covenant of promise [Eph 2:12]) and the grace-filled, challenging, and life-altering invitation of Jesus (Luke 14:25-35).

Thanks for this article.

Brandon

d†p said...

Robert,

Although not UMC, I agree whoeheartedly in your assessment. In my church, we still use the altar rail ( and I often draw a comparison between the rail being inside the Holy of Holies, and the Altar being the in the same place as the hilasterion, where the blood of the covenant is poured to cover sins)

my parisoners come up as a group, kneel as a group (those that can) commune and dismiss as a group (or a "table" (another nice point - the table is not just individual)

Does it take a few more minutes? Maybe, I am not convinced. it does leave more time to consider the grace to be received.

Another benefit- because my elders ( lay spiritual leaders) are the "ushers/hosts" as they invite people up - they have a moemnt to talk to the stranger in our midst, finding out if they believe, and yes, are baptised, and have examined themselves.

One of my elders recently visited another church in our synod, and remarked how much more he apprecaited our care at the table, after seeing the spiritual equivelant of the drive through. (he wans't being sarcastic, just a little shocked)

our confessions have a neat line...

The purpose of all ceremonies is to teach(or give) the people what they need to know about Jesus.

His presence, grace and comfort among them.


It would seem you have a similar attitude, and I pray your people realize the blessings they receive!

Glenn Borreson said...

As a Lutheran, I loved your comments on how infant baptism made sense. Often I think of it as a sign of the largeness of God - great in love, grace, and so on. Thanks for the good words.

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