An Offer of Grace

united-methodist%20logoWhat follows is an email, in its entirety, that I received today.  The author has approved my sharing its content, but asks that I protect both her identity and that of her congregation.  I think it is both a message of hope and realism — fair, reasonable, balanced, and deeply grateful.  Here it is:

Dear Pastor Dick,

It has taken me awhile to figure out exactly what I want to say to you.  I have been reading your blog and I find it a breath of fresh air in a somewhat dry and dismal desert of church rhetoric.  That said, I want to politely disagree with you, or at least offer a perspective that is out of line with what you and others have said. 

This is my story.  Four years ago my husband ran out on me and my three children.  Neither of us had been overlay faithful in our marriage, and I was scared to death.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was desperate.  My life was a wreck and I was looking anywhere for help.  I grew up in a Methodist Church, and the church on the corner was a Methodist Church with the Igniting Ministries “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” slogan displayed on every side.  For me, it was an offer of grace and a beacon of hope.  From the first day I entered the doors with my kids, I was accepted, loved, and included.  I found a level of acceptance I have never known before except by my closest and best friends.  I believe the church may have saved my life and saved my family a lot of hardship.  That message of openness attracted me, and in my case, it delivered.

But that isn’t the end of the story.  I am very active in leadership now, and I confess, it breaks my heart sometimes that we withhold from others the love and acceptance I personally received.  They took in a divorced woman with a shady past, but they won’t accept the gay man who moved in across the street.  They provide shelter to the homeless, but they refuse to help the drug addicts.  They will visit the mentally challenged, but refuse to start a prison ministry.  As I talk to more and more people, I realize that this isn’t exceptional, but normal.  And this is the message I want to share with you.  The issue of “openness” is not “are we open or are we closed,” but “where are we open, and where do we need to become more open?”  I am distressed by your message that the “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” campaign is hypocritical, or worse, a lie.  No, we’re not perfect, but we are trying.  “Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds” is not a statement of fact, but an offer of grace.  My church opened to me in amazing ways and I am a new and better person because of it.  We may not be open to everyone, but we are open to many who need us.

You are challenging the church to be better.  I cannot tell you how inspired I feel by much of what you write.  But you are sometimes too hard on the church and church leaders.  Continue to challenge us, but be kind.  I know that the people I work with in my church are all doing the best they can, and the best they can is pretty wonderful.

Anyway, it took me a long time to figure out how to agree and disagree with you at the same time.  Your position on Igniting Ministry is both right and wrong at the same time, just like our churches are both open and not open at the same time.

God’s Love! 

8 replies

  1. Dan,

    I read you faithfully. I don’t think you are too hard on the Church -“iron sharpens iron”.

    While I appreciate this story – the church she mentions is not the norm. This church, most likely, would have welcomed her regardless of the denominations marketing slogan.

    It is time for the church to move beyond slogans and take seriously the mandate of Jesus – seek God and God’s righteousness first, and everything will fall into place.

  2. As a lay person on social security and medicaire, I teach a little Cokesbury Old and New Testament in a small group of roughly attendance 12. I appreciate you posting the email about “Open Doors”. Our UMC church, in Western New York, as I suspect many, struggles, just like the early church. Some guy I read about once said something about “we see in a mirror dimly”. Things will get better but some will spend some sleepless nights over what we do to each other, just because we have different faith levels. I highly recommend Adam Hamilton’s sermon online about inclusiveness. So, as Paul recommended, I guess we have to pray 24/7 for guidance from the “counselor/advocate”.

  3. Like the un-named woman above, I too have been reading your blog and both agree and disagree. I am a seminary student who, with a little grace, will be commissioned as a provisional elder in 2010. I am trained as a ReThink Church provider but hold some of the same reservations you hold with regard to our ability as a denomination to “make good” on our promises. My situation is a little unique however since I spent my career in marketing and advertising. One thing that many people are forgetting is that advertising is not only targeted at an outside audience but also at the current members of the culture being marketed. In other words, when McDonalds says they have tasty products they are reminding their employees that is what they are providing, when Holiday Inn says they have friendly service they are reminding their employees to be friendly. Likewise in the Methodist Church, when we market We Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds we are reminding the people to be just that!
    Pastor Dick, keep holding our feet to the fire….we need it…but keep in mind that there are lots of good people out here trying to be salt and light to the world.

    • Thanks, Sally,

      I am trying to do both — walk the fine line of stirring up holy discontent while affirming and supporting the truly good and grace-filled leaders and followers who continue to give me such hope. Ours is a wonderful faith and a good church. May the first inspire us to make the second ever better!

  4. I agree! To me, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” is a great phrase, but only in its proper place: it’s a statement of vision. It represents so well who we aspire to be as we move on toward perfection! We don’t always live up to it (that’s why it fails a little too often as an advertising slogan), but it is what we strive to be.

    What I like so much about the new Rethink Church material is that it has changed “open” from noun to verb: “Together we can open hearts, open minds, and open doors.” Understood in this way it is not only our vision, but our mission.

    Let’s get to it!

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