Bookshelf: Q&A About the UMC

I have always loved books. As a child, I often hid a book and a flashlight under my pillow so I could read long into the night after my parents had gone to sleep. Recently, I had the privilege of working on the revised edition of Questions & Answers About The United Methodist Church. Just the kind of book to tuck under your pillow at night.


I’m not sure this project could have come to a more appropriate editor. As much as I love books, it’s quite possible I love the UMC more. As the child of a UMC pastor, I grew up intimately acquainted with our itinerancy system. Instead of pushing me away from the structure of the church, my experiences attending annual, jurisdictional, and general conferences instilled in me a fascination about the organization of the UMC. I have half-jokingly called myself a “metho-dork” on more than one occasion. In my undergraduate studies, I was the only student excited for our 8:00am “Polity and Practice of the UMC” course.

Getting to edit the revised edition of a book about everything United Methodist enabled me to put my passions for books and the UMC to work yet again. Questions & Answers About The United Methodist Church provides a safe entry point of understanding for those new to the denomination, and it provides a strong foundation for even life-long United Methodists who always have something to learn about this organization we call the Church. Through a straight-forward, clear, and simple explanation of our beliefs, history, traditions, and social policy, author Tom McAnally provides the answers to the questions all United Methodists have wanted to ask.

A friend from another denomination half-jokingly says one can be a United Methodist and believe anything. Why does that impression exist among some people?

United Methodists recognize the right of Christians to differ in doctrine, requiring only the essential beliefs that God is our Creator, that Jesus the Christ is our Lord and Savior, and that the Holy Spirit is ever present with us. While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve the tradition of the church, personal experience, and the ability to reason for ourselves. The United Methodist Church is not a creedal church that requires members to subscribe to a closely detailed system of beliefs. This does not mean, however, that United Methodists are not committed to basic Christian doctrines. Both the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith are embodied in our Book of Discipline as the doctrinal standards of the church. In addition, the Standard Sermons and Notes Upon the New Testament from Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, are included in the existing and established standards of doctrine and are accepted as landmark documents for United Methodists. We affirm core Christian doctrines such as the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – both in personal experience and in the community of believers; salvation by grace through faith in Christ as Savior; the universal Church; the reign of God as both a present and future reality; the authority of Scripture in matters of faith; and the essential oneness of the Church in Jesus Christ. “Our Theological Task,” a twelve-page section of The Book of Discipline, encourages all United Methodists to reflect on God’s gracious action in their lives.


What is different or distinctive about being a United Methodist?

No Christian doctrines are exclusively United Methodist. However, we have distinctive emphases including:

*the availability of God’s grace for all;

*the essential unity of faith and works;

*salvation as personal and social;

*the church as a community of Christ’s disciples who seek to share in God’s mission;

*the inseparability of knowledge (intellect) and vital piety (devotion to religious duties and practices) as components of faith;

*seeking holiness of heart and life both as individuals and in society;

*a cooperative ministry and mission in the world;

*the link between Christian doctrine and Christian living.

How big is the United Methodist Church?

U.S. membership is now about 7 million; membership outside the United States has grown to 5.6 million.

McAnally also paints a compelling picture of the global church at work in mission and ministry throughout the world, showing how we are able to do together what no other congregation or even regional network of churches is able to do alone.

What happens to the money I put in the offering plate?

In the United States, about 85 cents of every dollar given in the offering plate stays in the local church; 7 cents goes to work at the district, annual conference, and jurisdictional level; 6 cents goes for benevolent giving; and 2 cents goes to general apportionments. Your church's expense figures will vary, depending on your support of annual conference benevolences.

The money that United Methodists give to the broader United Methodist church through apportionments allows the church, as a world-wide connection, to do more than any one church or even regional connection of churches is able to do alone. We support mission, ministry, education, disaster relief, and other essential needs throughout the globe. The cost of our Christ-centered global ministry is significant, but it is only a small portion of the local church budget.

The names of colleges and universities such as Southern Methodist University and Nebraska Wesleyan suggest they are related to The United Methodist Church. What is the relationship, if any?

One of the first actions taken by American Methodists when they organized in 1784 was to create Cokesbury College in Abingdon, Maryland. Since that time The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations have been affiliated in some way with 1,200 educational institutions. Today, there are 119 United Methodist-related schools, colleges, and universities, including 13 schools of theology and 12 historically black colleges and universities. These institutions have widely varying relationships to the denomination. Some schools receive major financial assistance from a unit of the church or the entire denomination, while others receive little or no direct financial aid. One example of a university that receives denomination-wide support is Africa University, located in Zimbabwe. Launched by the denomination in 1972, it has more than 5,000 graduates.

We have people working on our behalf throughout the world, from the busy metro-center of Washington D.C. to the barren dirt roads of Malawi. Even as it informs, Questions and Answers inspires us by reminding us that our work in the local church makes a difference around the globe, bringing change and love in the unlikeliest of places.

Come to think of it, tucking a copy of Questions and Answers About The United Methodist Church under your pillow at night might actually be a good idea. Who wouldn’t sleep better knowing the power of God is alive throughout the world in an organization and connection called The United Methodist Church?


Today's post was written by Rachel Hagewood. Rachel Britt Hagewood is an editor of Adult Resources at the United Methodist Publishing House. A life-long United Methodist, Rachel holds degrees from Martin Methodist College in Christian Education and English. She combines her passion for ministry with her extensive appreciation for the English language through her work as an editor. She began her professional career editing children’s resources at UMPH and also has experience teaching at the middle school and collegiate levels and in church communications. She and her husband, Mark, have two sons, Lucas and Benjamin.

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