Thesis 19: Quieter and Quieter

This post is part of a series of meditations on each of Luther's "95 Theses." You can view all posts in the series here.
19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.
There is a special kind of person who goes through life treading so gently and so lovingly that we do not even hear his footsteps until he can no longer make them. Billy Reed was one of those people. May he rest in peace.

Billy was an alcoholic, or at least that's one of the first things I remember knowing about Billy. We never called him Mr. Reed, which would seem typical of a small suburb of Nashville in the 80's. I wonder whether this is because folks secretly thought less of him because of his particular admission to his sin, or because he was so personable. Maybe a little of both.

I started going to Bellevue UMC in Nashville, Tennessee when I was five, and I barely have a memory of Billy not being in church. He would come in dressed as if he were just doing life, not necessarily church, that is to say, casually. We were always glad to have Billy there, but was it because we wanted to see him "saved" or because we were humbled by having someone in such clear need as part of our church?

I remember weeks when Billy would give his testimony during the worship service, a habit that we've all but lost in the contemporary church, at least in the mainline tradition. That sort of thing wouldn't play well in our desperate grab for new seekers who might be new donors.

As the years went on, Billy got more and more sober, and his outfits got nicer, but it is impossible for me to imagine him without a smile. Impossible.

In our attempts at seizing the ever-prized and ever-elusive "young people" demographic, have we marginalized our older members?

To be sure, like every other teenage boy, old folks got on my nerves. Can't lie about that. As I got to college and beyond, though, and got random care packages, phone calls, handwritten letters, and mounds of prayers, I realized who the backbone of my church was: the older members.

Young people don't want perfectly crafted worship services. They want the Holy Spirit to show up. Young people don't want sermons they can react to with tweeted questions. They want to know how to put the Gospel into action. Young people don't want to hang out with people exactly like them, or the same age as them, all the time. They want to see and experience deep relationship with the diverse people of the Body.

In thinking of the ways we try to make church relevant, we complicate it. Why are we not looking more closely at the roots of the Methodist movement? Solid teaching, regular get-togethers to commune, even smaller get-togethers to spill one's guts about struggles. Of course that's an oversimplification, but not by much.

It's what I think about when I see prescriptions for churches undergoing consultation to renovate by hiring a Director of Discipleship. It is difficult for me to imagine something less Wesleyan. We should be putting the onus of discipleship in the well-equipped hands of the people, and watching the movement spread like wildfire.

It's so interesting that I'm even having a hard time imagining Billy's voice or anything specific he said to me.

But I absolutely remember his presence. I remember his posture when singing hymns. I remember his handshake.

These are the things I can only hope to be remembered by when I am gone.

I am willing to bet that Billy would be so humble as to be uncertain of his own blessedness. Thankfully, multiple generations of Nashville Methodists would strongly disagree.


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