A Reason For Optimism

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I know I sound like a pessimist. However, I like to think of myself as a pragmatist and a realist; especially when it comes to matters of the church. I know where we are. I know the decisions my congregation are wrestling with and how they fit into the more considerable upheaval rippling across Methodism. If you’re sitting safe and secure now, wondering what all the fuss is over, don’t worry. Someday soon, disaffiliation will come knocking at your door. It will no longer matter how we got here and what should have occurred at annual and general conferences long ago. The most critical issue will be that the members of your congregation will want to decide if they will remain members of the United Methodist Church, today. Their reasons for wanting to leave or stay will vary from place to place and person to person. A word of warning, it will be challenging to be in ministry during this process.

Despite this reality, I am optimistic. There are reasons for optimism. I sense, see, and feel a degree of optimism in defiance of the grievance-based assault on United Methodism and mainline Christianity. Why? How? From where does my optimism arise? It may sound simple, but so is the Gospel. I am optimistic because I believe in a simple hope delivered by an optimistic rabbi from Galilee who had a vision of everything working out. I am optimistic because Jesus was optimistic. After all, scripture paints a vivid picture of a world where sorrow ends, justice is restored, equality is guaranteed, and heaven meets earth. I am optimistic because it all works out in the end, not because of anything I do but because of everything Jesus has done.

I am optimistic because we are still here. The church still stands. Our buildings are not empty. While discerning a path forward, my congregation and others welcome new members. Methodism is not a lost cause. Even United Methodism in the Southeast Jurisdiction is still thriving. Despite crummy weather, COVID, death, a land war in Europe, and mass shootings across America, ordinary Methodists are coming to church to sing, pray, and hear the word of God. If they are angry about the issues of human sexuality tearing us apart, I do not see it from my pulpit. Remember when people checked their politics at the door? It still happens! I hear heartfelt prayers about life, love, loss, healing, new birth, and salvation. I see people on different sides of the political spectrum turn to one another and say, “may the peace of Christ be with you.” I am optimistic because we are here. We are talking to each other. We are laughing, hugging, and crying. We are alive. I am optimistic because we are still alive.

We are still standing. (Antwone Fisher, 2002)

I am optimistic because I see God whittling away at our spiritual narcissism. We know churches split, secede, and divide. This is a constant in both religious and human history. God knows the folly of our quest to achieve holiness through our own efforts. Christianity’s presumptions about doctrine, Biblical interpretations, and theology are ours alone. I am optimistic because I know we can give these matters to God and still be led by the Holy Spirit, not individuals with specific religious agendas. I am optimistic because I know others are still listening for the still, gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit.

I am optimistic because there will always be another Sunday. On Sunday, the doors are open. It is already built and they are coming, to paraphrase “Field of Dreams.” It is the church. They are the people. Welcome them with optimism and hope. If it’s all we have, then that’s good enough.


–Richard Bryant

An Uncommon Prayer about A Common Place

I thank you for these bricks. Lord, it has held me while I walked back and forth. I and many others have paced over these bricks in thoughts too deep for words. We stood upon this brick for weddings and graduations. Grandmas, grandpas, and uncles, and aunts were taken from here to eternity over these bricks. Life has been lived and died in and over these bricks. I am grateful for these bricks. They do what I cannot seem to do, testify in rain and shine or wind and hail to the permanent impermanence of the life you call us to lead. For the obvious path beneath my feet, I am forever grateful.


Richard Bryant