Monday, November 17, 2008

Church of the Second Chance: Empowering A New Generation of United Methodist Leaders

In Anne Tyler’s novel Saint Maybe, nineteen-year-old Ian tells his parents, Doug and Bee Bedloe, of his decision to leave college and become an apprentice cabinetmaker. This will enable Ian to raise the young children of his deceased brother, Danny. Ian has arrived at this decision because of the influence in his life of Rev. Emmett and the Church of the Second Chance, a congregation that believes in actual atonement, that is, that you must do something “real” to be forgiven for your sins. Ian’s sin was that he led his drunken brother to believe that his wife was unfaithful, after which Danny committed suicide.

In the crucial scene in which Ian tells his parents of the change in the course of his life, church and faith enter the conversation. Ian explains that he will have help from his church in juggling his new job and the responsibility for the children. This alarms his parents.

"Ian, have you fallen into the hands of some sect?” his father
asked.
“No, I haven’t,” Ian said. “I have merely discovered a church
that makes sense to me, the same as Dober Street Presbyterian makes sense to you
and Mom.”
“Dober Street didn’t ask us to abandon our educations,” his mother
told him.
“Of course we have nothing against religion; we raised all of you
children to be Christians. But our church never asked us to abandon our
entire way of life.”
“Well, maybe it should have,” Ian said
His parents
looked at each other.

His mother said, “I don’t believe this. I do
not believe it. No matter how long I’ve been a mother, it seems my children
can still come up with something new and unexpected to do to me.”[1]

Ian’s is a story of two kinds of churches. Dober Street is a church that mainly confirms people’s lives as they are. The Church of the Second Chance disrupts lives in the name of Jesus so that people can change. In my experience, young adults are more attracted to the church that promises them change, new life, and disruption than in the church that offers little but stability, order, and accommodation. Alas, too many of our churches have contented themselves with meeting the spiritual needs of one generation with the resulting loss of at least two generations of Christians. If we are going to fulfill our Conference Priority and summon a new generation of young Christians, I expect that we’ll have to look more like the Church of the Second Chance.

William H. Willimon

[1] Anne Tyler, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991), p. 127.

9 comments:

George Linney (aka Monk) said...

Saint Maybe sounds like a book worth reading. I hope you are well and I saw on a calendar that you will be in Raleigh in December (Edenton, I think). I'd love to get coffee if you had a free 30 minutes, maybe even at the airport. I'll be in touch. George Linney

Jeff Lutz said...

Bishop Willimon,

I'm glad you have written on this subject. This is what I have been feeling for a while. It seems the only growing UM churches that I see growth and people's lives changed are the ones daring enough to step out of the shadow of the older generation's control.

God Bless,
Jeff Lutz

Greg Garrett said...

Saint Maybe is a terrific book that asks hard questions in a beautiful way. Thanks so much for recommending it and for your challenge to pay attention to it.

roadtripray said...

It's hard breaking the grip of stagnation. But it is vital!

Peace,
Ray

Rev.Dustin said...

Maybe I am confused by the illustration, but the idea that atonement requires our work is alarming. Or maybe its because as an ex-catholic, the idea of penance before justification by faith is anathema.

The idea of challenging people to live out their lives as those who have been gathered into His body is definitely something needed today. The idea of having a community where mercy and charity (using the old term for love) is lived out is what is often missing.

Yet, in our desire to develop it, are we short-changing the work of the Holy Spirit in quickening our trust in Christ for salvaiton?

B'ham Billy said...

Yet, in our desire to develop it, are we short-changing the work of the Holy Spirit in quickening our trust in Christ for salvaiton?

Rev. Dustin I would say in some cases (not all) that the answer is yes. Good observation.

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