A Letter to the Council of Bishops — Miranda Lupion

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Dear Council of Bishops:

I grew up on Long Island, an area where most people aren’t Methodist. Most of my classmates in elementary and middle school were Catholic and had never even heard of Methodism. Around the time I turned eight, they all made their first communions. As one of three students in my grade that didn’t, I still attended the ceremony. My Mother, never one to pass up a prime learning opportunity, took me to the Catholic Church where I watched the ceremony. The following Monday, upon realizing that I had been in the audience rather up in front with them, I was bombarded with questions.

“Why didn’t you make your Communion with us?” they’d ask.

“Because I’m a United Methodist,” I’d reply.

“What’s that?”

“Its…a type of Christianity.”

“So like being Catholic.”

“Kind of?”

“So why don’t you just be Catholic? I don’t get the difference.”

Until that point, I hadn’t really understood the difference either. With its high ceilings and white washed walls, my church looked a lot different than the Catholic Church I had just seen. But beyond that, and the fact that I didn’t get a little white dress, I had no clue. So over dinner that night I asked my Mother.

“Mom, why don’t we just be Catholic? What’s the difference?”

“Well…one of the reasons has to do with Communion…”

Taking her example from the past weekend’s events, she attempted to explain the difference between the religions using transubstantiation and consubstantiation. As a former Catholic school student and as a current Methodist Sunday School teacher, she figured this was one of the most black-and-white and concrete distinctions she could make.

Throughout elementary school and middle school, whenever anyone asked me what it meant to be a United Methodist, this is the explanation I gave. It was only when I moved to a new district in high school, and many of my new friends were Jewish and Hindu that my answer failed me.

Now, whenever anyone asked, I would focus on the progressive nature of my Methodist Church. This seemed the best way to approach the topic, as it often countered the stereotypes they had churches. I would explain that the focus is on personal faith, an individual interpretation of the scripture and a direct connection with God. The other aspect worth mentioning was the family I had found in my church. Lacking a local extended family, it was my pastor, my teachers, my choir directors who filled this role.

In high school, I not only shifted my responses from a doctrinal to a cultural distinction, but also from referring to The United Methodist Church to my Methodist Church. That’s not to suggest that my church isn’t United. As kids we were certainly united in our love of coffee hour, as choir members in song and as congregants in faith.

In the wake of the Frank Schaefer Case, across the country, we, as Methodists, are not united. My congregation, like many others in the northeast, support Schaefer and his actions. The 13 Methodist pastors who found Schaefer guilty of “disobedience to order and discipline of the Methodist Church” disagree. They garner support from many churches from north to south.

This runs counter to everything I learned and later taught in Sunday School. After twelve years of Sunday School and my confirmation, I had the opportunity to work with a class of second and third graders. The curriculum we used was not focused on nit-picky details of Bible stories, on rote memorization or strict interpretation. The aim was to impart values that reflected the Methodist motto: “open hearts, open minds and open doors”. Universal values about love, charity, forgiveness and acceptance were and still are the crux of our Sunday School education.

If we wish to live up to our namesake-to truly be the United Methodist Church- it is essential that we practice what we preach. Keep our hearts open by unconditionally loving one another. Keep our minds open, by understanding that we must balance the traditions we’re founded on with the progress we’ve made as a people. And keep our doors open, not just tolerating differences between congregants, but embracing them.

Schaefer is the epitome of all of these. The Church should unite behind him.

Sincerely,
Miranda Lupion
Proud Member of the Babylon United Methodist Church
Student at the University of Pennsylvania

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