A little over a year ago my Church of Christ congregation in Lexington, KY laid their hands on me and prayed as they sent me out to work with a local United Methodist congregation as an urban missionary. A little over two-hundred years ago a revival took place not far from Lexington in which Methodists and others came together in the name of Christian unity, and this ignited a movement to which I am very much committed today.
I have told many people that my work at Embrace UMC is an outworking of my commitment to the Restoration Movement, both in my hope that it will enrich churches within that tradition, and as a testament to the ideals of early leaders like Barton Stone and David Lipscomb. Stone and his congregation at Cane Ridge wrote in The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, “We will, that this body die, be dissolved and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.”
In the recent months, the Southside Church of Christ and Embrace United Methodist Church have reinvigorated my hope for the future of the church. In many ways, socio-economically, denominationally, geographically, racially, and theologically these churches could not be more different, but a partnership is growing that continues to bear witness to Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17.
The preaching minister from Southside has delivered a sermon at Embrace, the Southside youth and campus ministry groups come monthly to prepare food and serve at Embrace’s weekly community meal, the whole Southside congregation held a diaper drive for Embrace’s diaper bank, and it was primarily Southside members who supported me financially when I was raising a salary for my work at Embrace. I am privileged to participate in the life of both communities, as I go to Sunday school at Southside, and worship service at Embrace, and I teach at both places.
Last night as we partnered to offer a thanksgiving meal to folks from around downtown Lexington I witnessed seniors from Embrace working alongside youth from Southside, then we all went upstairs to sing praises, and share communion together, a testament to the eschatological reality that we are one in the Spirit, one in the Lord.
There have been discussions about church polity, sacramental theology (a quip about sacraments), gender equity, sexuality, worship styles, ethics and so much more. Friendships are being formed, community is developing, hospitality is being extended, and in all of this Christ is being glorified.
The uniqueness of each congregation need not die, nor should either hide or downplay their theological convictions, but praise God that sectarian attitudes so prevalent in my tradition of the Churches of Christ are dying. Sectarianism needs to die so that unity can be resurrected. This sort of sectarianism died, even if only briefly, at Cane Ridge, and it needs to die regularly in the church today.
In some of the churches in which I grew up it would have been out of the question for them to bless me and send me out for a work like this, unless of course I was sent to be a missionary to those godless Methodists. Thankfully though, it was Methodists, and Presbyterians, and Baptists who came together to start our movement, and it has been Methodists alongside my Church of Christ family who have taught me about the ecumenical impulse of the Restoration Movement. It is time for another Cane Ridge revival. It is time for more last wills and testaments to be written. It is time for sectarianism to die, and ecumenism to rise again in our midst.