October 23, 2010

the world is my parish...

There is this saying sometimes about Methodists... that we'll marry and bury anyone.  And in my little town, I guess that is true.

Most of the weddings that I have officated in these past three years have not been church members. 

Most of the funerals I have presided over have not been church members. 

I understand and honor and respect the traditions and policies of the other churches in town. There are good reasons for asking couples to belong to the church before they get married within in.  There are reasons that in lay terms we call it "Christian burial."  As pastors, we invoke... or at least name the presence of God in these sacred and holy moments and ideally, the person or couple would want God there and would hold to our beliefs about God as well.

But that is not always the case.
A couple does not always have a church home or a background in the faith.  An individual or a family may have fallen away from church or may want nothing to do with the church in their final days.  And yet, I get a phone call that my services are needed... and I try my best to respond.

I cringe at the idea that the church is a place where religious services are provided.  I hate the consumer implications of such a statement.  So, as I started typing that last paragraph and the idea of a supermarket came into my head, I started to go back and change it a bit.

But I can't... because when I get the phone call from the funeral home or from a young (or old) couple... I hear more than a request for services.  I hear an invitation to be in relationship.  I hear the voice of a person who is seeking the presence of God. They might not fully understand what that means, but they are inviting me into a relationship with them and together we get to discover how God is moving in their lives.

When I talk with my congregation members about what our church is about, one of the first things that they mention is our open communion table.  The fact that everyone is welcome to come and participate.  And one of the second things they mention is that our church is open to the people of our community and that we will go and sit with families that are not a part of our church when their loved one has died... that we will get the ladies together and put on a funeral dinner... that we will open our doors to a couple who wants to join their lives together in marriage. 

John Wesley might have meant something very different when he said, "The world is my parish."  But I understood him to mean that his minstry was not limited to a local parish.  His ministry was not limited to the people who sat in the pews every Sunday.  His ministry was out in the world. And my ministry belongs to the community as much as it does to my congregation. 

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