In October 2013, I went to Blue Lake Campground near Andalusia to complete a project for what I thought would be ordination as a deacon in The UMC. Blue Lake held many fond memories for me. It was a beloved and sacred place. I had been called to new life in Christ there in December 1992 and had enjoyed many times of worship, fellowship, study, and growth on its grounds. This particular visit, however, I was in a profound grief over my Father’s recent death. And I was coming up on a deadline for work that was due. I was welcomed there and given a quiet and comfortable place to both grieve and work. When both were done for the time being, I was relieved and refreshed. I could see with new eyes. And what a morning awaited me as I prepared to drive home! This photo video is the result of that morning’s reflection on the weekend’s solitary retreat, on life, on God’s presence with me, on my willingness to simply be present with God and experience the journey as he wishes to show it to me.
A few month’s later, on the day I met at Blue Lake Campground with the ordination committee for the outcome of that weekend’s work toward ordination, things did not go as expected. The next 3 years’ effort would show that day to have been the beginning of the end of my 8-years of preparation for deacon ordination in The UMC. Those final 3 years would also convince me that what God showed me that day in the conference room at Blue Lake Campground in the ordination committee meeting was a physical representation in this realm of a spiritual reality…… a battle within The UMC that had little to do with me except that it was also the beginning of the end of my 40+ years as a United Methodist as my eyes were opened to some of the things about The UMC that would never be acceptable to me and my understanding of God’s expectations for his church and his plan for my life. And so, in February 2017, again at Blue Lake Campground, as I prayed for wisdom, I surrendered all desire for deacon ordination in The UMC and left there relieved and ready to move on with what God had already set my hands to do.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Seneca
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Socrates
Today, as The UMC’s special General Conference begins in St. Louis, many of us believe that a cataclysmic change is coming to The UMC. Really, though, many of us wonder how much more cataclysmic the changes could be than what we have witnessed over the last 40 years? How profoundly it affects us individually and as local churches remains to be seen. As for me, I already did the work necessary to emotionally disconnect myself from The UMC after what God showed me. I have no further vested interest in whether The UMC survives its present turmoil over doctrine, discipline, political forces, Scriptural authority, and social justice movements. I am at peace and enjoying my journey with Christ, much as I was the morning that I took this leisurely ride home from Blue Lake and photographed the beauty I found around me.
Blue Lake Campground has been a place of tremendous personal revelations, mostly unsought and unexpected, but gratefully received. I haven’t been back there now for a couple of years and have no plans to return. The long season of my life that began there is over…… 25 years’ worth. God has taken me to so many more sacred places and shown me so many more revelations elsewhere. And mostly God has affirmed in my spirit that my call is to a people and a purpose, not a place, whether it is a physical place like Blue Lake where I spent so much time serving and being served or an institutional place like The UMC or PC Rescue Mission where I grew and beyond which I grew. The little town I referenced in this photo video is Liberty, Florida. Today as I came across this and watched it again, I realized how much liberty in Christ I gained through discovering how to disconnect from place and live into purpose day by day wherever I am among the people to whom I am sent. It is an awareness of mission that identifies with Christ’s own:
““The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
I watch with curiosity as the events in St. Louis unfold. I don’t really expect much from The UMC. Its time is over, in my opinion. But I am expecting that God’s people will remain faithful and will renew the call that God placed on John Wesley’s life and on many lives since. For those of us who have moved beyond institutional church denominationalism to being Christ’s Church in the world by the Holy Spirit’s presence and direction, these few days are merely a news story, not a life-changing event. Our prayers and tears have poured forth for The UMC for decades. We know that God is present, that God is sovereign, that God is Good, and that God loves us all. The prayers many offer today are for us to be strengthened in Christ as we continue to BE THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD that God desires, led by His Spirit, not by the episcopacy and agencies, doctrine, rules and books of The UMC.