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Laity must claim the 'power to choose'

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Delores Martin, Lay Leader of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, often says that United Methodism is a faith that believes in the ministry of all believers. For the annual Laity Address, she invited Bonnie Ives Marden, a leader in the New England Conference and chair of the Northeastern Jurisdiction’s Episcopal Committee, to speak on “The Power to Choose.”

God gives each person the power to choose and the possibility of serving in ministry, Marden said. “Beloved, let’s choose now to show up.”

Marden shared her insights into the gift that each United Methodist has the opportunity to choose to respond to their call, claiming authority to lead, and to be in vital ministry.

One’s call, she stressed, can change over a person’s lifetime. The important thing is to be open to God’s leading and to show up, Marden said. The Bible is full of people who make choices, including the disciples, fishers of men and women who became architects of the beloved community. 

“Today we continue to face many choices,” said Marden. “I grieve when I hear people say, ‘please, don’t make me choose.’ The right to choose is a form of power.”

 One of Marden’s best choices, she said, was choosing to be a lay member of The United Methodist Church. She finds courage in the hashtag #BeUMC, she said. (Learn more about the #BeUMC Campaign.)

“I embrace a church where everyone doesn’t have to agree and all are welcome,” she said. “I embrace a church based on loving relationships rather than uniformity in thought and action.

I am committed to a church that is committed to the creation of a more just and inclusive world, united in the love of God. I want to be part of a church that has given billions of dollars to offer healing to a broken world.”

“Church,” Marden said, “has showed me that God is everywhere, not just in sanctuaries.”

She laments, though, that churches and individuals often make choices not to keep up with cultural change. All too often, she said, churches can be 40 years behind in responding to cultural changes or shifts.  

We need to name and then release our fears about change, Marden said. “When I release my fears, I discover I can lead in new ways, I can be more resilient, I can persevere.”

Marden was joined in the Laity Address by Jamal Oakman, a member of Reisterstown UMC who serves as a leader of the BWC’s campus ministry at the University of Maryland’s Terp HUB.

Terp HUB, he explained, means “Here You Belong.”

Growing up in the church gave Oakman a sense of belonging, he said. “It helped me create my own identity.” ROCK retreats and summer camp at West River were profound experiences for him. “They helped me when I was questioning my faith and showed me where I belong in this world.”

At the Terp Hub, he leads the efforts “to tell students, ‘You are loved and you belong in the community of God.’”

He encouraged older United Methodist to allow young people to take on greater leadership roles in the church. “We want to solve injustices in our communities,” he said. “We all serve a God who is loving and kind.”