My Methodist Heritage

This is not an entry about Why I Am a United Methodist—I’m afraid I don’t have the mental horsepower for that one. [Sorry, I feel like crap today.] I did think it important, however, to talk about my heritage as a Methodist: where I first joined the Church, where I’ve been a member, etc.

Now, unlike a lot of Methodists that I’ve known, both of my parents were themselves raised as Methodists: in fact, my parents first met at church. [That’s an amusing story in and of itself; my father has a brother who is far closer in age to my mother—under two years, compared to nearly four—than he is. My maternal grandmother first through Mom was dating my uncle and not my father … when she figured out which Morris boy it was, it was a bit late to tell her no, even though this meant that my still-in-high-school mother was dating my fourth-year-in-college father. Heh.] Both sets of grandparents attended the same church in little Guin, Alabama, and my maternal grandmother still attends to this day.

I am unsure where I was baptized, although I feel pretty confident that we were still in Knoxville at the time. I’ve never gotten the name of that church in my head very well. As we moved from Tennessee just nine months after I was born, I clearly remember none of our time there. I barely remember our church in San Antonio, Texas, although it seems to me that we attended Saint Mark’s [although it could have been Saint John’s]. I vaguely remember doing pre-school type things there.

The first church that I do well remember being a part of is Aley United Methodist Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. We lived in Ohio from 1983 to 1991, and as these were largely my formative years [ages four through twelve], this congregation holds a special place in my heart, although I have been unable to worship there since. [My friend Rick and I were going to try a couple of years ago, as we were in the area, but we chucked that idea out the window and worked instead on getting home to Huntsville in a more expeditious manner. Someday, though.]

It was at Aley that I first began to be involved in church activities at a meaningful level. What stayed with me most was being an acolyte—for a period of almost two years when I was nine and ten, I was the only regular acolyte that the 8:30 a.m. service had! It was amusing for me, as my parents had to coordinate when we’d be out of town with the acolyte coordinator so that the church could find one of the older boys willing to light candles. [Unlike in most churches I’ve seen in the South, Aley had a pew for the acolyte(s) to sit in to stage right of the altar, which meant that you were in plain view during the entire service. Given that Mom was in the choir loft across the altar area and that I was highly visible to the congregation, I was pretty doggone well-behaved in church!]

We moved from Ohio before I hit 13, which was a crushing blow to me in many, many ways. Let me explain the culture shock of the move with this example: Beavercreek had over 6,000 students in K-12 public schools in 1991 when we moved. [Considering that 10-15% of the school-age children in town were homeschooled or attended a private school, this figure could have been higher.] We moved from there to Forest, Mississippi, where the entire town had a population just over 5,000. Ignoring cultural effects of moving from the Midwest to the Deep South, it was, to be sure, quite a large change in my life.

Forest United Methodist Church is where I finally professed a saving faith in Jesus Christ. That was a bit awkward to me: in Ohio, students typically didn’t enter into Confirmation—the Methodist tradition of concentrated study of Christianity prior to a formal profession of faith and membership in the Church—until students were juniors in high school. As a result, while I had read my Bible a fair amount for a kid my age, I was unprepared for my peers in Mississippi to have already all been confirmed when I moved there and started the seventh grade. [Let me state for the record that this is the only time that I ever really felt like I lagged behind my cohort in any way; Mississippi’s record of education deserves the disregard outsiders give it; moving there was like being forcibly dropped back two grades.] I quickly pushed through Confirmation on my own with a booklet I remember more for not reading or caring about than actually working through, and I joined the Church as a professing member.

My membership stayed in that church body until after I started college, even though I didn’t live in Forest past my sophomore year in high school. While I attended the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, I attended a few churches—notably First UMC in Columbus, where my friend’s father was the associate pastor—but none very regularly. Much of this was because I regularly made the trip home to Forest on the weekends—probably half the time my junior year, and a little less than that my senior year. I will always remember that my time at MSMS was the farthest I’ve ever fallen away from the Church and from faith in Christ; others found the experience drew them closer, but I never felt like it was a very Christian place. I do know that I tried to witness as best as I could, but I found myself not being effective at that, largely because of my own pride and, likely, because I was not grounded in worship.

I did finally transfer my membership to Aldersgate UMC over in Huntsville during my freshman year of college. I ended up at AUMC largely by coincidence—it was down the road past one of my friend’s houses in the southeast part of the city, a place more than 20 minutes away from the UAH campus, where I lived my first two years in school. Only because I saw that church one time as I missed the turn to go up Green Mountain did I know it was there, and despite the fact that there were no college-age students to speak of in all my time in that congregation, I found a home there. Amusingly, I found out after joining and being a member of the chancel choir that the director at the time was the sister of the youth director from Forest UMC. I love how things work like that.

Now, I’ve talked here about some of the problems that I had as a member of Aldersgate in my last year or so there—the problems being almost wholly on my end—and this site also describes the process I underwent in finding myself in my present church, Madison UMC. It is the third church where I have been a member, and while it has few people in my age cohort, I have again found a home here. I am amused by the fact that I have continued my family’s streak of being involved with a church that is making a physical addition; every church we’ve attended since Texas has built a new building, save the church my parents attended when they lived in Greenville, Mississippi for a little over a year. It seems that we always end up finding a church that’s adding on whether they need it or not. [MUMC desperately needs the space, to be sure.]

I well imagine that I will remain a member of this congregation until major life changes happen with me—job, marriage, moving, etc. It’s interesting to me that the stability I’ve found in the three churches where I’ve been a member is greater than the stability I’ve found in other parts of my life. [After leaving Forest to go off to school, I moved to school, back home, to school, to my brother’s, back home, to college, back home, to college, to my first apartment, to my second apartment, to my third apartment, to a house we rented, to my fourth apartment, and to my house—fourteen moves from the time I was 16 until age 26, none of them while Dad was still in the Air Force!] While I have been itinerant in many parts of life, I have always found a home in the Church—which is as it should be.