Dr. Elaine Heath, 2016 Finch Preaching Mission Preacher

“…in the life of this congregation there are those Sundays when it better for us to come together and worship as one church…”


That we have two worship services on Sunday morning is good thing. One is led by a rock band set on a stage and the other by music of pipe organ and sunlight through stained glass windows. One service leans toward the worldly and the other toward mystery, and yet Jesus is found in both. They are like sisters of the same household, which is Memorial United Methodist Church.

We are fortunate that almost twenty years ago some folks in the congregation had the foresight to begin a contemporary service. Had we waited until now, it might have been too late. I understand that in the beginning the services were held monthly, with music led by a piano. Today guitars, percussion instruments and a keyboard fill the stage. Song sets include U2 and John Mayer, and some Sundays we pray with the soothing sound of a Native American flute.

On the other side of the Memorial experience is worship in the sanctuary. It’s very space tells the old, old story, with the saints looking upon us from the windows. When the Apostle’s Creed is recited and the Gloria Patri sung we are joining with them and the faithful from ancient days. Many of the hymns we know by heart because our mothers and fathers sang the melodies while weeding the garden.

If I was a member of Memorial and had to choose which service to attend, I am not sure what I would do. I am fortunate that my position requires I attend both. They each bless me. In one I want to dance and in the other I find solace.

Even so, in the life of this congregation there are those Sundays when it better for us to come together and worship as one church. This Sunday, October 30, is such an occasion.

Dr. Elaine Heath will be with us at the 11:00 service. She is the Dean of Duke Divinity School and our Finch Mission Preacher. It was more than two and half years ago that I first contacted her, when she was a professor of Evangelism at Southern Methodist University. It has taken me that long to get her here.

Dr. Heath speaks a message we all need to hear, and hear as a shared experience. She will speak about the future of the church at a time when congregations across the Christian spectrum are in decline, aging and quarreling amongst themselves over constricting budgets and membership loss. She is able to look the future squarely in the eye and dispel the anxiety and gloom that comes with it. She understands that this is the time to separate the wheat from the chaff and ask what makes us disciples.

Dr. Heath is asking the tough questions. Are we listening to Jesus? What is the tradition behind the many traditions we honor throughout the year? Have we become so busy and distracted trying to maintain our membership and facilities that we have forgotten we are here to call forth people to bless the world with the gospel? I imagine the answers to these questions are by degree and not a complete yes or no. Where have we drifted and will we correct ourselves?

I am not so concerned about the church becoming smaller. I want it to be relevant. The future will change the institution and I am ready to save those parts that have salt and light. For those that don’t I haven’t the time, not any more. And as I get older, I care less about rejection or being seen as peculiar. I want to be part of a community that loves the world regardless and desires to take part in its redemption.

On Sunday we will have ONE SERVICE at 11:00 in the sanctuary.  It is important we come together and hear the message.