An Upright, Charitable and Discreet Conversation

The United Methodist Church is engaged in a
conversation that follows the prayer of its founder, John Wesley

may all our
actions be
… spirited
with zeal,
and all our
regulated with
and our
…void of
all guile,
and joined
with perfect
integrity of
–John Wesley

The United Methodist Church is engaged in a conversation that reflects a prayer its founder prayed in the 18th Century. But it isn’t an artifact of history, it’s as current and relevant as today’s news.

John Wesley prayed in the 18th. century for an “upright, charitable and discreet conversation” among the people of the Methodist movement. His words ring prophetic in our climate of indiscreet, uncharitable and truth-bending spin.

If we could have the conversation Wesley prayed for we would benefit from mutual respect and we would hear each other even if we don’t agree on every point. A conversation of this quality holds the potential for changing this wonderful, vital faith community with a storied history. While some partisans don’t want us to have the conversation in this respectful way, it has begun in some parts of the church anyway. It needs to be carried further by fair-minded clergy and laypersons in local congregations. It should be a grassroots conversation about the whole church and how it conducts relevant ministry today.

It should go beyond issues that divide and recall the practices, beliefs and disciplines that unite. I’ve heard excitement about the Nothing But Nets program to provide bed nets to mothers in Africa. It’s excitement unlike anything I’ve seen in recent years. This is a unifying activity that gives us life. It’s the kind of action that makes a difference in a constructive, life-enhancing way.

I’ve also heard positive comments about four initiatives proposed by the general agencies of the church that will reach out to young people, create new faith communities, fight poverty and tackle the diseases of poverty. These four are causing talk, and action. They unite. In fact, what unites us is much deeper and stronger than those things that we differ about. But it’s hard to know this when the divisive voices that get the attention are loud and shrill, and we have our share of these.

We don’t need to sweep our differences under the rug. But to be fair to ourselves we need to acknowledge what we’ve got in common with as much energy and appreciation as we discuss those few issues about which we differ. We hold much more in common than we recognize and concentrating only on the divisive issues, we lose our perspective. Most of us don’t get energy from arguing, we get energy from doing the right thing. And actions like Nothing But Nets and the four actions above are right things.

We also need this perspective today because the urgent needs of the world continue and we can make a difference as we are called to do as Christians. We have a responsibility to the world, to ourselves and to our Creator to not be diverted from creative, constructive service by arguing over things that the vast majority of us think should not divide.

We need an upright, charitable and discreet conversation.

(My thanks to Judy Smith of The United Methodist Publishing House who first called this prayer to the attention of a working group on the State of the Church 2007. The prayer can be found online at this link. It is available in print as well: “A Collection of Prayers for Families,” The Works of John Wesley (Jackson Edition), Volume 11, p. 249)

Deny not, O LORD, the desires of those souls, who would offer up themselves entirely to thy service; but preserve us always in seriousness of spirit. Let the sense of our weakness make us watchful and diligent; let the sense of our former negligence excite us to be fervent in spirit; and may the goodness of thy commands render us fruitful and abundant in the work of the LORD. O that all our pious affections may be turned into actions of piety and holiness: and may all our actions be so spirited with zeal, and all our zeal so regulated with prudence, and our prudence so void of all guile, and joined with perfect integrity of heart, that adorning our most holy faith here, by an upright, charitable, and discreet conversation, we may receive praise in the day of the LORD, and be numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting.

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