We’ve known for almost three years that at some point in the years ahead there would be a historically significant meeting of the UMC governing body. In time, facts appeared: specific dates in late February 2019 and a specific location in St Louis MO. Specific legislation, some of it ruled out of order, some of it revised. Specific opinions have been written, spoken, consolidated and guessed at.
My concern has been manifold; I come to this meeting knowing I will be present physically, spiritually and emotionally as a reserve delegate from the Great Plains UMC. I come knowing that I will be returning to the parish I serve in Lincoln, Nebraska. And I am aware that anyone with an interest in the content of this meeting does so with an amalgam of roles and relationships. I think about the candidates for ministry that I mentor, the cluster of churches I lead, friends and family for whom the matter of welcome in the church is both deeply personal and hurtful, and I wonder how I will explain what happened at this meeting that has not yet happened.
In the midst of this time of both waiting and revelation, I have been waiting for a revelation of a different sort. I have been searching for images, words and systems to help me see the way through a smothering quantity of emotions, facts, projected outcomes and opinions.
Last fall a word came to me, “anchor.” The anchor I saw with my mind’s eye had settled onto the bottom of a body of water. As the boat above it moved in the water, and as the water itself moved, the anchor also moved, tracing imperfect swirls and arcs in the silt on which it rested. I found this image of movement helpful. I found hope in the notion that a working tool could still have play in its being while remaining functional. I wondered about the mission of the Church and what it is that anchors us as a people, and I wondered how the movement of the waters around us might help us draw an arc that would be freeing rather than constricting.
Shortly after the image of the anchor came to me, I found myself reflecting on baptism. It was fall, and I was finalizing worship themes for the months from Advent through Lent. Our theme for that unofficial quarter was “Journey,” reflecting on the many thresholds and journeys that are found in the scriptures of those seasons. I’ve long cherished the creativity of the Wise Ones, who after being warned in a dream take the creative risk to return home by another way. One of the next scriptures we read is the story of another creative risk – the risk we take in baptism when we recognize and accept God’s claim on our lives as God’s children. Named and Claimed – pleasant to say, soothing and calming at times. But also a commitment on our part to listen for our name, to listen for God’s claim on our lives and then to act in concert with the accompanying vision of community and justice.
I’ve been collecting anchors since fall – charms, goofy sweaters, rubber stamps with various depictions of anchors. I’ve been collecting water and baptism images – shells, blue scarves, an aquamarine pendant. I’ve also been collecting faith stories of people who have heard God’s call on their lives and who have chosen to anchor their communities in faith, who have learned to help those who feel lost by calling out their name, whose lives are focused on claiming and naming God’s love for all people. It is in these stories that I found my quiet center, the space were I remember God’s love abides now and always.
I am unclear what the specific outcomes of General Conference will be. I am very clear that as people of faith we are anchored in the knowledge that we will be at our best when we are anchored in our faith as expressed by the baptismal claim on our lives. Named and claimed. Claimed for ministry in all the world, named as children of God, loved as we are.
Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede
PS I’ve been learning about anchors, and am happy to admit I am not an expert at all on this topic. Here’s one of my favorite lines from an article about anchors I read recently. “The earliest anchors were probably rocks.” This makes me giggle every time. I feel like I am at the rock stage of learning how to be anchored in faith, and I love the image of the person tossing the rock off the boat because it’s the best thing they’ve got. We are the best thing we’ve got for ministry. I’m thinking we don’t wait to be transformed into an anchor, we just take our rocky self and do our best.