It’s Our Tradition (May 8, 2016)

Some twenty years ago I was blessed to accompany my husband to Baltimore on a business trip.  While he was in meetings, I wandered the city.  Baltimore is a wonderful place for Methodists to explore.  It is the site of many important locations in the story of American Methodism.

Mt.Vernon Place UMC is built on the site of the Howard mansion.  Mrs. Howard was the daughter of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner, and the church itself is a prime example of Victorian Gothic architecture, conceived as a “cathedral of Methodism” when it was built in 1872.

Old Otterbein Church was established in 1771 by a German Evangelical Reformed Church congregation, which lent the chapel to Joseph Philmore to organize the Lovely Lane Meeting House congregation.  Francis Asbury convinced Phillip William Otterbein to accept the pastorate at Baltimore in 1774, where he remained for the rest of his life.  Asbury preached many times at Otterbein’s church. In time Otterbein and Martin Boehm formed the United Brethren in Christ Church.  (In time the Evangelical United Brethren would join with the Methodist Church USA to form the United Methodist Church.)  The current building was erected in 1785 and is the oldest in continuous use in Baltimore.

Lovely Lane Methodist Church is known as the “mother church of American Methodism” because it was here that the Christmas Conference of 1784 was held organizing the Methodist Episcopal Church, and ordaining Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke as its first Bishops.  The current sanctuary was designed by Stanford White and completed in 1884.  When I visited in 1996 the building was undergoing needed repairs, and a fundraising campaign was underway.  I see from the church’s webpage that the renovations continue.

I took particular delight in the museum at Lovely Lane.  It was in the basement, and featured a variety of interesting items, including the kneeling bench at which Francis Asbury prayed, many historical documents, portraits, a “parson’s wallet” (empty, of course), and a can of Welch’s grape juice.  It was the grape juice the intrigued me.

The lovely lady who gave me my tour told me the story of Welch’s grape juice, how it had been developed by Thomas Welch, who developed a process to pasteurize grape juice so it could be used during the Eucharist in lieu of wine.  As I thought about that this morning, I realized it was a fine case of accommodation.  Not only was it in line with Wesley’s admonitions against “manufacturing, buying, selling, or using intoxicating liquors,” it was an accommodation to those whose substance abuse problems would place them in an untenable position when it came to participating in the sacrament.

Drinking unfermented juice accommodated their need to abstain, without marking them as somehow separate or different.  That isn’t always possible, but accommodation and inclusion should always be our goal. It’s already our tradition.

 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Luke 14:13*

(Like many of you, I am cringing at the words “crippled” and “lame.”  But I researched the verse through many different translations, and those are the words.  We are more mindful of the terms we use for disabilities today.)

Dear God, Thank you that you have taught us to care for one another, and to make the road straight, the load lighter, and the day joyful.  Through your Son Jesus Christ you have granted us the assurance of eternal life and the knowledge that we are never alone.  We are grateful. Help us remember that you welcomed and loved us in all our imperfections, and help us to do the same.  Amen.

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