I Am United Methodist: Billie K. Fidlin
When Billie K. Fidlin was a high school senior, her mom became terminally ill. Although her family did not attend worship regularly, their United Methodist church, especially the pastor, stepped in to help.
"The church played a strong role during that period," she recalls. "The church was my sanctuary."
After the birth of her first son, Fidlin knew "the church needed to be a part of me and me a part of it. I love God, and God loves me. That relationship means something and has responsibilities associated with it."
She has stayed with the denomination, she says, because of "the call to justice, action and mission. We live out our faith as Jesus calls us to do. We have issues – yes – but the difference we make as a body ... is really unparalleled."
Now director of outreach for the Desert Southwest Conference, Fidlin is a member of Dove of the Desert United Methodist Church in Glendale, Arizona.
"Beyond my position with the conference," she says, "I chair the public policy commission for the Arizona Faith Network and serve as vice president of the board of directors, which puts me in a position with legislators and lobbyists to ask that we look at public policy from a faith standpoint. For example, a state budget is the moral document of a state. Is that document how God calls us to love all among us?"
Fidlin's experience of teaching at a United Methodist Women School of Christian Mission inspired her to start a nonprofit online magazine, Whisper n Thunder, www.whispernthunder.org. The magazine has more than three million readers. The non-profit organization offers scholarships, leadership and emergency-assistance programs; and has a radio show and a YouTube channel.
"This is all born from my passion for justice, which is completely due to the teachings, influence and mentorship I received – and still receive – as a United Methodist. I am beyond grateful to God and my church."
Through all the challenges of her life, Fidlin says, her church family has been a blessing.
"Once I began a ministry with inner city kids and gang members, and the church was so supportive of a ministry so foreign to them." In honor of her efforts, she received the Distinguished Evangelism Award from the Foundation for Evangelism in 2004.
She appreciates United Methodism's "call for mission and justice in collaboration with a foundation in our faith and call to live out that faith. But also," she says, "I am a firm believer in connectionalism. What we can do together with God at our center is so much greater than what any individual church or person can do."
The denomination is not without challenges, Fidlin admits.
"We continue to struggle with controversial issues, sometimes, in an unhealthy way," she says. "We need a strong Council of Bishops and clergy leadership to help us – to come to the table and to provide safe sanctuary for discussion when we disagree – without attack or judgment. Certainly we must pray for the General Conference."
Fidlin describe her "ideal global church" as one that would more fully embrace inclusivity and ministry opportunities for all, and serve as the voice for compassion, peace and justice.
She identified key issues facing the denomination: leadership development, the church's relevance to people of all ages, job creation, economic inequality, hunger, immigration, human trafficking, child and elder abuse, refugee resettlement, prison reform and health care.
"We need to lead the advocacy efforts in these and all issues."
Barbara Dunlap-Berg is general content editor at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee.