I am a United Methodist
Joan Holms, Queen Anne United Methodist Church, Seattle
After a United Methodist friend invited Joan Holms to attend worship with her, the then 28-year-old, who had grown up in an African Methodist Episcopal congregation, realized something had been missing from her life.
"I found a place in which the leadership of the laity was highly valued," she says. "I found an annual conference that was committed to diversity in all its forms, and I loved the connectional system."
Today it is hard to imagine the self-described "professional volunteer" who is Holms not living out her faith. At Queen Anne United Methodist Church, Seattle, she chairs the leadership team, serves on the staff-parish relations committee and participates in weekly prayer and Bible study groups. A certified lay speaker, she is lay leader of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.
Reaching out to others is part of Holms' DNA.
"I work with the church's gleaning ministry, which provides food to local food banks and a soup kitchen," Holms says. She also records books for people who are visually impaired and is a pen pal with two incarcerated women.
She finds plenty to love about her adopted denomination, especially its emphasis on justice and caring ministries.
"We are called," Holms asserts, "not only to strengthen our personal spiritual life, but also to allow that to inform the way we move in the world. Our mission statement, to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,' tells me that (getting) more members in the pews is not the ultimate goal but, rather, to help bring about God's kingdom on earth."
She sees effecting change as United Methodism's greatest challenge.
"With so many people, with so many different cultures and points of reference," she explains, "we do not (always) see eye to eye. One of the things I value most about The United Methodist Church is that there is no litmus test for membership. This means that we are not always moving in the same direction, and things get messy, hearts are broken, and we sometimes send a message of intolerance to the world.
"While change is not easy, more and more, I see congregations recognizing the need to connect with the community, care for those outside our doors, be willing to look critically at what we have always done and find new ways that will resonate with young people."
Holms' hopes for the future echo those of many other United Methodists.
"I hope we can find ways to remain one church family, not always agreeing, but allowing each other to be in ministry in the way God is calling each of us. This may mean the Book of Discipline is not a ‘one-size-fits-all' book of rules, but rather, something that allows the Holy Spirit to move and work, and for the people of The United Methodist Church to respond in a way that is authentic for them in their setting.
"I hope we will never present ourselves as the ones with the answers," she continues. "I hope we continue to be a place in which people can come and explore their faith and ask questions as they discover for themselves what their relationship with Christ looks like."
Barbara Dunlap-Berg is associate editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.