Greater NW Pride: Spirit Alive: Can We Be an All Souls Church in a Some Souls World?


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.

January 15, 2019

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

What Will It Take to Transform the World?

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.'"

Romans 12: 2

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

President Theodore Roosevelt

Some years ago, when I was at a conference in Washington, DC, I heard the pastor of the church, where the event was being held, preach on what it meant for his church to be called "All Souls Church." It was a very powerful sermon...and it made me think a lot about what kind of church I want to be a part of.

In his message, the pastor told those of us gathered that he didn't think that a lot of people would be drawn to attend his church if it was called the "Some Souls Church." He felt that name just didn't sound all that appealing. I mean...who wants to say that they go to the Some Souls Church anyway? The name feels so qualified, so partial, so incomplete, so judgmental....so exclusive. And yet, in practice and through our behavior, we often act like this is the kind of church that Jesus created....or even worse, sometimes we behave as if this description was actually true!

The problem is that I just don't see Jesus going throughout Galilee teaching others and calling his disciples by saying, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of some men...and even some women if we need to." I don't see this approach to ministry gathering huge crowds of followers or being passed down from generation-to-generation with such a sense of enthusiasm for over two thousand years.

Think about it...what would it mean to say "Some of us are created in God's image?" That very phrasing leaves a lot to be desired and raises a bunch of questions: Which "some"? Who decides? And...what's up with all the other stuff that God created? It just doesn't feel like the kind of spiritual framework that would last all these years. And...I'm not sure that this message would have gotten Jesus crucified...and of course, that would mean no resurrection either! So...the idea of a Some Souls Church just doesn't look too promising to me.

This whole thing makes me think about the difference between what is communicated on the Statue of Liberty, where it says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," as opposed to... well... other things that tend to be said these days.

Lady Liberty isn't saying "give me some folks or even your best folks." It feels like a much more open invitation than that, which means valuing others, not just tolerating them. And this ultimately has to do with a society's emotional and spiritual well-being.

John Ralston Saul, the brilliant Canadian thinker, puts it starkly in his book On Equilibrium, when he says: "Insanity is the loss of our sense of the other." Others matter...and they help to make us whole, healthy, and complete. So in fact, we actually need to be an "all souls" place for our own collective well-being!

And...you can't claim to be an "all souls" place, if you have a "some souls" mentality. It just doesn't work. People see right through it...and they won't believe you, even when you say they just don't understand the situation...but that you really do care about them deep in your heart.

In our Methodist tradition, John Wesley declared that "I look upon all the world as my parish." He didn't go around saying, "A lot of the world is my parish," or "I'll preach to some people," or "Many of you are welcome in the Kingdom of God." Wesley was all in...everywhere!

In fact, this is a part of why Wesley got in trouble in the first place isn't it? I'm sure that people muttered in his day and said things like: Why are you leaving the church building and preaching in the fields? Those folks aren't a part of us...they are the "other souls." We feel uncomfortable with them...they just don't fit in our slice of heaven...or in the confines of our church building.

"John get a grip...if you preach to all those folks, who knows, you might start an uncontrollable...(and I might add "spirit-filled") movement...and what would we do then?"

Humm...what would we do indeed?

But it is as if Wesley was channeling Jesus' own words as recorded in the Gospel of Mark (16:15), "Go into the world and preach the good news to everyone." Again, Jesus doesn't say to preach to the "selected few" to "some" or "to those you really, really like." He says, EVERYONE. Now that's an "all souls" approach to ministry...and it is our brand identity as well, so to speak.

So what does this all mean? It means that we have to put on a new mindset that is not exclusive and not conformed by the world's limiting categories and prejudices...It means investing some of our time and energy in renewing ourselves...heart, soul, and mind...so that we are capable of transforming our congregations and even the world. But how do we do that?

It begins by engaging our neighbors...all of them...for we have so much to learn from those around us.Think about it for a moment. Do you know the principal in the school near your church? Do you know who lives in your neighborhood? When was the last time you talked to someone who is not your own age? Do you know anything about the life situation of the person in the restaurant who served you a meal...who cleaned your room at the hotel...or....you get the idea.

What contributions do they bring to our life together? What concerns are on their hearts and minds?

In certain settings, this is called contextual work that is as simple as ABCD...Asset Based Community Development. This approach represents a way of looking around at our communities and doing our ministry not for others, but in connection and partnership with others, so that we utilize all the resources that are available in our communities. But this requires us to look at others with an "all souls" mentality that does not draw artificial barriers and limitations between us. God knows there is much to do...and the truth is we will need everyone...even those we do not yet know...and all the assets we collectively possess in order to heal our world and ultimately transform it.

In her book Who Do We Choose to Be?-- Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, Margaret Wheatley summons us "to be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humaneness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil."

To be a leader...and even a neighbor...today means that we have to see possibility and humanness as things that can motivate us to break through the fear and turmoil that surrounds us.

In closing, I am reminded of these words of wisdom from the historian Howard Zinn: "We don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

Last I heard, all of us are a part of God's good creation. Looks like we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we will be working with a lot of friends...old and new...along the way.

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