“And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!”Charles Wesley, 1749
No hymn seems to cut to the core of the Methodist experience in 2021 quite like the very same Charles Wesley hymn that early Methodists used to convene their annual conferences together. Are we yet alive? Feels like we’re just barely hanging on sometimes. We are rocked by tumult and strife. The American church has been in steep numerical decline not only for my entire life, but my parents’ as well. A global pandemic has ravaged every aspect of our personal, social, and ecclesial lives for over a year and a half. Some churches have yet to reopen, while others are contemplating how to respond to COVID infection rates spiking yet again. Because of the pandemic, the United Methodist Church is in a holding pattern for finalizing a schism that’s been rolling in slow motion for decades. The Connection—that fundamental fabric that undergirds Methodist theology and polity—is threadbare.
We (and I suspect this is applicable for all Methodisms and all Wesleyan churches, not just the UMC) are in an interregnum. The old Methodism we know well is visibly passing away; the structures that once buttressed mighty mainline denominations are dinosaurs from the general church to local church levels, chronically failing to adapt to a changing landscape… not always for lack of trying! And yet a new Methodism has not emerged, outside a conservative proto-denomination whose founding ideal—however they try to spin it—is the maintenance and strengthening of the exclusion of LGBTQIA+ people from full participation in the body of Christ. The lopsidedness is jarring, as the nascent Global Methodist Church has had a draft Book of Doctrines and Discipline prepared for nearly two years now while a robust vision for the future has yet to take hold among affirming Wesleyans.
The reason our team—young United Methodists from across the United States, lay, clergy, and almost-clergy—came together to create this publication is our earnest belief that the Holy Spirit is at work in this moment. We saw in one another kindred spirits who believe we are yet alive, by the grace of God, called to do our part in envisioning and strengthening an emerging church that is simultaneously Wesleyan and unabashedly LGBTQIA+ affirming. And we know we’re far from alone, not only in our denomination, but in the broad Wesleyan family that includes Methodists, Holiness churches, and Pentecostals. We believe the pietistic, Spirit-filled, social justice-oriented revival that John Wesley nurtured among the working class in 18th-century England has not been extinguished, and is in fact perfectly suited for where we find ourselves today. Wesley believed God empowers people across gender, race, and class in the pursuit of holiness and sanctification—and we’d simply broaden the intersectional nature of the project he began in preaching to ragged masses at the mouths of coal mines and training his preachers to bring cutting-edge medical care to the poor.
A new Methodism is coming; indeed, it must come. The way we have done things for nearly two centuries is no longer working. Many of the Millennials and Zoomers among us have the paradoxical blessing of starting fresh, having never seen the church we love operating on all cylinders. Our hope is for Yet Alive to offer a forum to envision the new, to hash it out, to engage in a vibrant and productive holy conferencing that official channels are grievously failing to achieve. The Methodist tradition has always had spaces like this. A major instrument in the promulgation of British Methodism was John Wesley’s own publication, The Arminian Magazine, which served to draw a clear doctrinal picture of God’s love as Wesley understood it and stand against Calvinism in the Methodist movement. The magazine motive, centuries later, offered a radical theological, political, and social vision from the Methodist Student Movement from 1941 to 1972, pressing far beyond the pale of acceptable dialogue for the institutional Methodist (and later United Methodist) Church.