Spirit Alive: The Things We Do Together


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.

February 5, 2019

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Out of Many, One....

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

Ephesians 4:3

"Live in harmony with one another."

Romans 12: 16

Unity, harmony, and love toward each other are at the heart of Paul's letters. In fact, he addresses the subject of unity of spirit in a variety of ways throughout his writings, including those he wrote to the  Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, and Romans. It seems that unity of spirit was on Paul's mind a lot, which also means that the Early Christians struggled with issues of division and differences of opinion as well. But for Paul, this wasn't a theoretical concern. It was a practical matter that related to what kind of people we were called to be as followers of Jesus.

And yet...Christianity survived...and spread throughout the land and through the ages, reminding people of what can happen when individuals learn to love one another as Jesus has loved them. (John 15: 12) Unity matters...common cause matters...being one in the spirit matters. And, people notice it when they see it!

Think for a moment about all the things we've done together as United Methodists over the years.

For example, consider all the food pantries, congregate meals, hunger offerings, rallies, and other signs of commitment and service that have taken place in our congregations related to addressing the needs of those who are hungry in Oregon and Idaho. Many of the programs that were created during the Bishop's Initiative to Eliminate Hunger, which was started by Bishop Hoshibata years ago, still exist today. They represent an important collective effort.

And...consider the ongoing legacy of Africa University, which continues to educate and prepare students in a variety of fields from some 34 African nations. It all started back in 1988, when the United Methodist Church made this a focus of our combined energy as a church. Together, we've invested millions of dollars on this Pan-African enterprise, which has meant so much in terms of education in the fields of business, agriculture, public health, theology, and government. For more on Africa University, click here

And...who can forget our recent work related to Imagine No Malaria (INM). Again, in 2008 when we came together in the unity of the Spirit, United Methodists worked wonders and touched the lives of millions of people. And in the process, we helped to significantly reduce the number of deaths attributed to malaria. Look at what INM has been about over the years, click here to learn more.

But as United Methodists the power that comes from working together shouldn't be unfamiliar to us. John Wesley "recognized the need for an organized system of communications, and accountability and developed what he called the 'connexion,' a network of classes, societies, and annual conferences." Wesley saw this way of being church together as a spiritual discipline that was capable of revealing God's grace and embodying Jesus' spirit in the world. And through this process, we, as Methodists, have been a vital movement within society, addressing the spiritual and real issues of the day. For more details on connectionalism within our tradition, click here.

As 2019 begins, the matter of connectionalism also makes me think about the various Special Sundays that we honor throughout the year as a church. They include Human Relations Sunday, which we just celebrated, as well as UMCOR Sunday, Native American Ministries Sunday, Peace with Justice Sunday, World Communion Sunday, and United Methodist Student Sunday. These special offerings take place throughout the course of the year, and they support a wide variety of causes that include scholarships, work on social justice and outreach, ethnic ministries, and UMCOR. To learn more about these Special Sundays in the life of our church, click here.

All this raises the question: What's possible for us as a church when we decide to focus our attention on Abundant Health...or participate in an area-wide emphasis on CrossOver...or read Brian McLaren's book We Make the Road by Walking...or collaborate on other projects together in the Greater NW Area...or vote to be one church together as United Methodists? I think the sky's the limit...but it will also depend on our collective imagination and our ability to be open to and receive God's Spirit in our lives.

But...as Americans we should know the power of acting as one body as well, since we are steeped in an understanding and tradition that says there is strength in unity. The Latin phrase E pluribus Unum...out of many, one...is printed on our money, and this phrase dates all the way back to the very beginning of our republic, when it was first adopted as a part of the Great Seal of our nation in 1782. Countless times, during the course of our history, we have been at our best when we have worked in concert together.

During the height of the American Civil War, it was Abraham Lincoln who understood the great cost that is involved in division and disunity among people. He put it this way: "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." A sober thought to consider as we seek to find our way forward in today's world.

And...during another difficult time, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the nationwide riots that followed that traumatic event in 1968, Robert Kennedy said that we need to bring "the country back together...all of us working together...(because) if the division continues, we're going to have nothing but chaos and havoc in the United States."

As you look at our national and global landscape today, it is obvious that there are differences among us. The reality is that we express ourselves in different ways given our unique contexts and circumstances in life. This is only natural, but we need to give each other space to do this thoughtfully and well. However,  when we do come together on matters of importance and share in a spirit of love toward all, we are able to make a significant difference for the good in terms of impacting things....such as the spread of malaria, reducing hunger for those in need...and reminding the world that our witness as Christians can touch lives and make things better.

This remains our challenge today as a people...as Christians...as it was in Paul's day as well.

So as we approach the Special Session of General Conference February 23-26 in St. Louis, pray for our church and those who gather to help us determine our collective future as a church. After all, we share a common baptism, gather around a common table...and worship a God of love and justice. And may a spirit of love and unity guide us as we make our way forward...after all, as we are learning through our CrossOver year of study, "we make the road by walking"...and hopefully we can do that together.

Let us walk in the light of God's love,


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.











Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org