Seems like Wednesdays can be such long days!
I start at 7 am with the Beaufort Fellowship of Churches meeting. As Ben pointed out today, "You can't call that a spiritual meeting." Sometimes it is, more so than others. One of its functions is to administer local missions funds, and that seems to work fine. Another is to do some community events, and so we have worked together on a community Thanksgiving service and an Easter sunrise service at the waterfront (which was pretty good). And the other function, intentional or otherwise, is to give us pastors a place to be human. We laugh at jokes we know we should groan at or ignore, we share pieces of ourselves we can only share with someone who knows what our lives are like, we share good news when great stuff is happening in our churches. And when our lives are less great, we can share that, too...sometimes.
It's an interesting group for me to be in because the pastors are mostly from traditions that do not accept female clergy, but they have become comfortable with the other women (1 regular, 1 who comes occasionally) and with me. And because sometimes in our conversations, our doctrinal differences come out, and those can be pretty illuminating.
For example, today we were talking about how we were doing, and someone said, "Do you ever just feel like a big old sinner?" We all agreed that sometimes we do, but many of the folks in the room seemed discouraged by an overwhelming sense of guilt and the knowledge that there is nothing we can do on our own to earn God's mercy and forgiveness. Unfortunately, they sort of stopped there.
I hadn't given much thought to our Methodist doctrine of assurance, but I realized it's importance today. It helps us to keep our perspective: there is nothing we can do on our own to earn God's grace, but in Jesus Christ, God reaches out to all people to offer grace and forgiveness, and we can know that we have received this gift from God. I really didn't think much about it until I found myself in a room full of people who didn't seem to have much sense of assurance of salvation. Without that assurance, I don't really know how Christians remain encouraged and have a real sense of hope. What do we have to offer, what's the "up-side" to church and the Christian life if we don't have some sense that we are changed for the better by God, and that our salvation is a gift that we can receive and feel that we are in Christ new creations, with merit that is from God, but is merit nonetheless.
I'm going to have to sleep on this a little, I've left musing on the until it's too late to think clearly. But it was curious to me to feel okay about not being a big sinner, when my friends seemed to feel it so acutely. Maybe it's arrogant, but I tend to think it's a gift from God.