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.