This year, our church is celebrating 200 years of Methodist mission and ministry in the town of Barnstable. Just like the founders of the Methodist movement, Methodists began gathering in homes in Marstons Mills and Osterville, and soon those gatherings led to the building of a place for worship, learning, and mutual support and accountability.
Ours is a movement of small groups, be it John Wesley and his brother Charles meeting in a dorm room in Oxford in the 1720s or Lewis Hamblin and Eldred Baker, Sr., who lived in a part of Marstons Mills known as Hamblin’s Plain, gathering in 1819. From small groups, the churches in Marstons Mills and Osterville were built. In 1968, those churches would merge, at the same time our global church was merging with other denominations, forming the United Methodist Church at 57 Pond Street in Osterville, part of the global denomination, The United Methodist Church.
Looking back on our history, our living story gives us the opportunity to notice what has changed, and what remains the same. It invites us to look closely at who we are and how our faith and traditions shape us. It reminds us to tell the stories of our community and our faith, to share what we’ve learned from mistakes and failure as well as celebrating successes.
It’s fun to imagine the changes our churches have seen in the last 200 years. Almost none of our members come to worship on horse anymore, and as a pastor in the 21st century, I have never been paid with fresh produce nor livestock. The changes in technology alone are staggering to consider. And certainly, the villages and town of Barnstable have grown in ways I wonder if our forebears could imagine.
One of the questions I hear from time to time is, “Is there any place for the church in the 21st Century?” Throughout our history, the church both locally and globally as a denomination has found itself too often on the wrong side of history. We’ve known too much our share of racism, sexism, classism, elitism, heterosexism, and more. And yet, you’ll also find us hard at work, living our call to “Seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” We don’t always get it right, but we rely on grace to learn from our mistakes and grow in our depth and width of compassion.
I see this growth in grace and compassion in the courage and resilience of our congregation, the people who gather at 57 Pond Street, to rise after each challenge and struggle. In times of grief, suffering, division and fear and uncertainty, our church has sought to be faithful. We have weathered much, and still, we are reaching out into the community, to feed the hungry, offer hope to the hopeless, and to live the love of Jesus.
I see this growth in grace and compassion in the 1992 congregational decision to become a Reconciling Congregation, to publicly declare that all God’s children: gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender are welcomed here. We continue to live into that witness, grieving the decision of our global denomination earlier this year. We stand, as we did in 1992, in opposition to exclusion of anyone based on identity. We stand on the side of God’s wide-open welcome and limitless love and compassion for all God’s people, GLBTQIA +.
200 years after our founding, I would argue the church is still needed, for similar reasons that led to our founding. We offer a place where people can gather to experience love, community support, and accountability. We offer a group of people who will surround you care and compassion when life is really hard, and celebrate with you life’s victories large and small and share the warmth whenever joy is yours. At 57 Pond Street, we offer a safe place to explore faith and doubt, to discover and rediscover who and whose you are. We offer a weekly reminder, that you are loved, just as you are called to love. We believe this love makes a difference in our church, in the community we serve, and through the work of our connectional church, around the world. Together in Christ, we are committed to serve.
Join us as we celebrate, this Sunday, September 15 at 11am!
*This blog post was also submitted to the Cape Cod Times.