Saturday, February 12, 2011

What the United Methodist Church Can Learn From Glee

I'm a fan of the television show Glee. I love the music. I love the cast. I love the message and the ways in which this show has the capacity to tell people young and old alike about what it means to be nothing less than who you are.

The episode that aired following the Superbowl has me thinking. Titled, "The Sue Sylvester Shuffle," the episode has a lot to teach the denomination of which I am a part.

The students at William McKinley High School are divided. They have an opportunity to win the Conference Championship in football but the team is stuck on their differences instead of their similarities. Half of the members of the team are in the Glee Club. Half of the members of the team despise the Glee Club, believing it is nothing short of a group of singing sissies. The team is filled with talent but cannot win because of the ways in which they allow their differences to enter the game.

Upon losing another game, Football Coach Bieste and Glee Club Sponsor Mr. Shue come up with a plan. Asking if Coach Bieste trusts him, he proceeds to tell her how he knows a way to get her team united again. We then watch as the team comes together not on the field but in the Glee Club's practice room - in the place that represents their disagreement.

Mr. Shue gathers the team with the words, "Bullying is born out of ignorance." He then tells the team that it is time to come together. It is time to find some common ground. "We have to find a way to come together or we are going to get our asses kicked."

Coach Bieste and Mr. Shue know that the actions of the team impact not only the players on the team but the entire community. The divisions of one group have a ripple effect on the entire school.

Their efforts succeed initially, and the entire team starts to sing. Mr. Shue notices the talent of the player who is most known for his bullying and says to Dave, "If you took the energy you used bullying people and put it into this you'd be the most talented guy in the school."

The episode continues and we watch as the cheerleaders have to sacrifice being cheerleaders - the very thing they believe makes them popular - and the football players have to sacrifice their egos and sing. In the end, the entire group sings Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to the delight of everyone in the stands and the football team wins the Championship game.

Everyone wins.
Everyone wins when people focus on what is really important.
Everyone wins when they let go of their pride and see what's best for the wider community.

I don't know about you, but I think the United Methodist Church is getting its rear kicked in many ways. We are a declining denomination. Read these words from a report on new church development:

Congregation Size

The United Methodist Church has lost members every year since the merger of 1968.

Congregation Age

The average age of worshippers are on the rise throughout the nation, however, the United Methodist Church is “already gray.” The congregational life survey,” “Who Attends United Methodist Churches?,” conducted by the Office of Research and Planning makes the following observations:

For every young adult under twenty-five years old, there are six senior citizens. In fact, there are almost twice as many senior citizens occupying United Methodist pews than there are adults aged twenty-five to forty-four. In typical congregations, those aged forty-five to sixty-four make up the largest group.18

The survey concludes, “If a denomination’s future rests upon the shoulder’s of the young, then The United Methodist Church must intensify its efforts to attract and involve young adults who currently make up the smallest portion of its population.”19

Household Type

A significant warning sign to note is that in United Methodist congregations across the country, only four in ten United Methodist worshippers have children living at home. This is a full 25% below the national average. The people filling United Methodist pews are most likely to be women, well educated, and aged forty-five years or older.20

These words do not paint a picture of a vital denomination. They do not speak of a flourishing church.

At the same time, many congregations are growing. The church I serve, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, has experienced a complete transformation in the last five years. We have gone from a congregation with an average age of 82 to a congregation that is known for attracting young adults and their families. Just five years ago, our chair of SPRC was 97 years old, our Finance Chair was 93 and our lay leader was 90. We now have in place an entirely new leadership team composed of people who have come in the last three to four years. What's changed? A whole lot. But one of the things that has changed is that we flung open our doors. We intentionally decided to be open to all people. We discerned a call to become part of the Reconciling Ministries Network. And one of our five-year goals is to work towards a transformed United Methodist Church.

Starting now, bodies across our country known as Annual Conferences are starting to look at pieces of legislation that will come before them this summer. At least three pieces of legislation that will come before the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference deal with sexuality. We'll debate again throughout the summer about who is welcome in our churches and who is not. We'll decide via votes about whose lives are incompatible with Christian teaching, ignoring all the while that most of our lives are incompatible as many of us are considered rather wealthy and are not sharing near what Jesus calls us to share. I'm what is described a goat in Matthew 25 more days than I would ever be considered a sheep.

Meanwhile, we are getting our butts kicked. We are losing members. We are growing older. We are becoming irrelevant.

What would it mean for us to take one for the team - for us to take one for Christ's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? What would it mean for us to put the energy we use on bullying people - on telling people that they are less than us because of the way they love - and put it into what is really important?

I pray for a transformed church. I pray for a church that is known for what we stand for - Christ's love, mercy, and grace; our love of God and neighbor; our commitment to justice; the impact we have on the communities of which we are a part; our ministries for and with the least of these. I pray for a championship win - the kind in which more people are being won over to Christ because the door was opened to them instead of being shut out.

What will it take for us to come together? What will it take for us to sing our hearts out - together as one - dancing in delight?


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Lauren

hnb said...

"We'll debate again throughout the summer about who is welcome in our churches and who is not."

I don't believe the debate is about this at all. Most congregations are welcoming to those who are different and those we disagree with. Otherwise, no one would attend.

The debate is more about whether practicing homosexuals should be ordained.