You’ve probably gathered that I often write these articles out of experience. Remembering Mr. Wesley’s dictum that our own personal experience can “guide us into grace,” I am going to assume that it is Grace itself that leads me to share these musings. Because this is going to get real.
I have been asked to address the “Trust Clause” 5 times in the past week. Grace must be telling me something.
If you aren’t familiar with it, the Trust Clause is the disciplinary mandate that all property is held in trust for the benefit of the entire denomination and ownership and usage of church property is subject to The Discipline. (paragraph 2501) I say this makes talk real because it is a time when (since some folks get all worked up over property matters) we address what we really believe and how we live those beliefs.
Scripturally this idea is one of the Bible’s most profound teachings: God is the creator of all; we are stewards; “The earth is the Lord’s in the fullness thereof and all who dwell therein.” [Psalm 24:1] “We brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it.” [I Timothy 6:7] We are not inheritors – no matter what our grandparents gave to a church—nor masters, simply stewards.
Theologically there is no more profound statement of the connection: we each work and give and serve in our own context, contributing to the whole, an entire connection of witnesses to Jesus. A venerated bishop of the early 19th century, Peter Cartwright, said we were using ourselves and our property in “organizing to beat the devil.” Our forebears organized and chose to be Methodists to be something bigger than themselves: to be tied to the whole work of Jesus. The same reason works today.
Pastorally: our practice frees and challenges a community at the same time. It frees every local church to be at liberty to use the assets in their lives to the fullest, with a degree of freedom, since all assets are for their use in their community to do the mission God has put in front of them. They are free to act knowing that they have the resources, support, and prayers of a connection helping them serve where they are. And they are challenged by the remembrance that everything we have is a gift from God, not to be hoarded or preserved as we do treasures in museums but as assets to be used for Gospel work.
Missionally this idea works. In the Capital District, following The Discipline, we are in the process of taking the proceeds from a congregation that closed and are using them to upbuild a new congregation. Methodists in the USA took resources from one place and used them in another of greatest possibility throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries to reach people who might otherwise not have heard the Gospel. That’s how we grew. We are doing the same today.
It is sometimes challenging and sometimes satisfying for folks who remember families who worked in one community to see those resources used in another place. That witness deserves our respect and admiration. Sometimes the whole discussion is painful. But I’d ask us to remember that those saints whose work in one community is now used in another were working to serve Jesus and Jesus is everywhere.
Finally, the use of the Trust Clause is an exercise in remembering whom I trust. The Apostle Paul tells me I am already an heir, adopted into the Kingdom. I am working to trust in that clause.
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HELLO FROM HARVEY – MAKING TALK REAL
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