Yesterday at our weekly free pasta lunch that’s open to the whole community – “no strings attached” – get it, we had a really interesting conversation. Our intern, Erica was hosting the pasta lunch and there was a guy that came for the first time. He grew up Baptist but doesn’t attend the Baptist campus ministry here. She said he had a ton of questions. He asked what being “Methodist” meant? Did we believe in one God? What does it mean to join? All sorts of questions.
Do we believe in the one true God? Now that’s one I didn’t see coming. As we were eating lunch today having a mini-staff meeting of course, she and the other two Wesley students that had been sitting there were talking to me about the questions and how they answered them as best they could. Several things hit me as we were talking. You would make the assumption, or at least I would, that in the South most people know about the “Methodist” church. I would assume that most would think at least something about the flavors of Protestantism like Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian….you know? Guess that assumption would be wrong. He didn’t have any idea what we believed. Or if we were even Christian.
Last year, a similar conversation happened with one of our students that lived at The Wesley House but didn’t come to Wesley. She was from a Holiness tradition and as she was visiting one night for dinner, she asked us if we believed in Jesus at Wesley. We have crosses everywhere and don’t worry I say “In Jesus’ Name” at the end of my prayers, but somehow she still hesitantly asked if we believed in Jesus.
There’s part of me that is really befuddled by all of this and I want to say – Duh! Of course we believe in Jesus. We believe in One God. Duh. We’re United Methodist – we’re not just a bunch of heathens – whatever that word means. Sure we welcome all sorts of people here – all sizes and shapes and colors and belief systems and struggles – but we do that as the body of Christ. Sure we have a female campus minister that isn’t really looked favorably upon with every Protestant tradition, but it is what it is. Sure we balance personal piety and Scripture and justice and Bible study and fellowship and fun and everything in between, but you can be as serious as you want to be and follow Christ and as crazy fun as you want to be and follow Christ too.
There’s another part of me that thinks it’s really telling that some people seriously don’t have any idea who we are, what we stand for, or what we believe. They genuinely don’t know and want to find out. Are we legit or not? Who is serving them this free pasta? What is this place?
If college students don’t know who we are, what makes us think that their parents do? What does the outside world think of when they hear the word “church”? What do they know about the greater Christian church not just the one they grew up in?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want our faith to be a secret code just revealed to some. I don’t want this to be something that only a few know about and the rest question and wonder. How do we invite in those that are questioning or pondering? How do we engage in the honest and authentic dialogue while not being defensive or creating an unrealistic polished picture?
What is funny is that the three Wesley leaders that were talking to this guy were one who grew up Baptist, one who is Nazarene, and another whose from a United Methodist church in Maryland. I would LOVE to have been a fly on the wall.
But that’s what the world is hungry for I think. They want something real and authentic and it’s not enough for some to just come and eat pasta, but they want to question and discern and engage. And that’s a neat thing. Maybe people just don’t know what Methodist means or Presbyterian. Heck, maybe our people don’t even know what those mean sometimes. My hope is that whatever people know or not about our denominations or stucture, that they’ll know for sure and certain that there’s a whole host of churches out there trying to live out the Gospel of Jesus and to really love God and love neighbor.
So bring on the questions. Bring on the dialogue. Bring on the honest reflections.