Walter’s Membership and the Meaning of Discipleship

This year at the Central Texas Annual Conference we passed a motion to clean church membership.  Entitled “Jubilee Membership Year” (page 271 in the Central Texas Conference Journal 2013) the motion reflects deeper theological commitments.  In part it reads:  “Faithful membership in the local church is essential for personal growth and for developing a deeper commitment to the will and grace of God.”  Both biblically and in The Discipline of the United Methodist Church, church membership is intended to be a reflection of a practicing disciple.  (Actually there is no such thing as a non-practicing disciple but that discussion is for another day.)  Back in the 1980s Bishop Wayne Clymer wrote a marvelous little book entitled Membership Means Discipleship.  Our discipleship as members is lived out in the vows of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  The “Jubilee” motion notes that churches are to follow the process laid out in The Book of Discipline in paragraph 228. As hoped, a large number of churches are cleaning their rolls as a sign of integrity and faithfulness.  Recently a story was passed on to me via a District Superintendent about the experience of one church in cleaning its rolls.  (Names are changed to protect the innocent.) It seems that when this church first got a computer, the Treasurer in experimenting with the system put in a family Walter Schroder (the first name is real, the second I made up) to test the system.  Due to the good work of the Treasurer, the system worked.  Unfortunately they failed to take Walter’s name out of the rolls.  So … well, here’s what the pastor wrote: “While taking part in the CTC Year of Jubilee, my office administrator and I sent out letters to families and individuals who have not been active at Halleluiah UMC for more than a year. A few days after the mail-out, we began to receive responses. Some told us they were attending other churches. Others wanted to remain on the rolls. One family notified us of their mother’s death. But then came the story of Walter. Walter’s family had moved their membership to another CTC church several years ago. Only Walter and the family’s daughter had left their membership at Halleluiah. But neither was active, and neither had left a forwarding address. My office administrator thought that maybe Walter was the family’s grandfather, so she sent his letter to the former members who now attend another church. Like others who had responded, we heard back from the family right away – only to find out that Walter is a cat! There has been a cat on the rolls at Halleluiah UMC for years!”cat I admit to being a dog lover and not a cat person; however, membership really is intended to be about discipleship.  Integrity and faithfulness are routed in following Christ.  This isn’t about nickels and noises (mere counting); it is about lives transformed through the Lordship of Jesus Christ and engaged in the transformation of our bruised and battered world.  Discipleship is a holy vocation for both lay and clergy.  In the great words of Abbot Aelred of Rievaulx Abbey in England (1147-1167 A.D.) and borrowed by the musical Godspell, “may we know Christ more clearly; love Christ more dearly; and follow Christ more nearly.”  We are to be day by day more like Jesus.