Untied Methodist (John 11:44)

A working preacher in Washington, D.C., wrestles with Scripture, the (sigh) United Methodist Church and his soul.

Location: Washington, D.C., United States

Currently the pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, a wonderful and blessed reconciling congregation. Formerly a United Methodist communicator and editor. Formerly a campus minister. Formerly pastor in Philadelphia for 24 years. Graduate of Albright College and Boston University of Theology. Husband of Jane Malone and father of David, Nancy and Naomi. Resident of Capitol Hill, a wonderful place to live! Articles published in Zion's Herald, a must-read magazine for Methodists, a variety of United Methodist publications, the Christian Century, newspapers.



On the last day (Sunday, July 17) of our time in Liberia, our hostess and guide Frances Porte invited us to attend worship with her. Her congregation, the First United Methodist Church of Robertsports, was meeting jointly with St. Peter's United Methodist Church, a congregation whose building is located a two-hour drive outside Monrovia. The combined service was held at United Methodist University in Monrovia.

The story the Rev. Unisah S. Conteh, the pastor of St. Peter's, told me helped me understand better the dislocation the people of Liberia have experienced. He explained to me that most of St. Peter's members had fled from their homes into Monrovia during the civil war. Their belongings had been looted and their homes damaged. Even though the war had ended in August 2003, almost two years earlier, most of St. Peter's members do not have the resources to repair their homes or to reestablish themselves back in their home community. So they have stayed on in Monrovia, hoping someday to move back home.

Once a month, Rev. Conteh told me, church members rent a bus for L$1,050 (US$21) and drive home to worship in their own church building. The other three Sundays each month they worship in Monrovia wherever they can find space, often in joint services with other congregations.

During the service I sat up front with Rev. Conteh. He asked me to write down my name and the name of my church so he could introduce me to the congregation. I wrote down my name and the name of my church: "Foundry UMC."

He looked at the paper, then he looked at me, then he looked at the paper again. He got up and walked over to where his choir was sitting and borrowed a hymnal from a choir member. It was one of the old Methodist hymnals that had been replaced in most of our U.S. churches 15 years ago when the new United Methodist Hymnal was published. Stamped in gold on the cover of the hymnal was "Foundry Methodist Church."

Foundry's old hymnals had somehow ended up at St. Peter's Church in Liberia. For more than a decade members of St. Peter's had seen the name "Foundry Methodist Church" on the cover of their hymnals but knew absolutely nothing about Foundry except its name and the name of the person listed inside the front cover in whose memory or honor the book had been donated decades ago.

Without knowing about St. Peter's hymnals, Jane slipped out of her seat to sneak up front to show me the hymnal she was using. Stamped on the cover of her hymnal in gold print was "Arch Street Methodist Church," the name of the church in Philadelphia I had last pastored. First Church of Robertsports in Liberia was using the old hymnals from the last church I had pastored.

So here's the thing: Two congregations happen to worship together in a joint service on the Sunday Jane and I happen to be in Liberia and happen to be invited to worship with them. One of the two congregation happens to use old hymnals from the church I currently serve. The other congregation happens to use hymnals from the last church I served.

What are the odds? What can this mean? Is somebody trying to tell me something?


Blogger Elizabeth said...

That is awesome. It's things like that that take my out of my usual skeptical nature to say, God, however God is working in that situation, is pretty cool, eh?

8:00 PM  
Blogger the reverend mommy said...

Wow. Just wow. It's a demostration of the providence of God. God is good. All the time.

I have a friend who was teaching at the seminary in Monrovia -- and was airlifted out Easter morning 1996. He carries a heavy burden for these people. I am going to pass this story on to him.

10:14 PM  
Blogger John said...

Wow! What a story!

11:20 AM  
Blogger JP Manzi said...

That is a really neat story and great that you took pictures as well. God works in mysterious ways even if the point has yet been understood.

3:30 PM  
Blogger gavin richardson said...

excellent share. it's amazing how threads are weaved through our lives.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

God works mysteriously indeed. What a marvelous example of the interconnectedness of people of faith. Connected, sometimes unawares.

8:37 AM  

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