United Methodism in Kentucky: Showing the Love of God

June 21, 2023
By Bishop Leonard Fairley
When United Methodists from throughout Kentucky met in Owensboro June 4-7 for our 2023 Annual Conference, much was made in news reports about the 286 churches that were approved to leave the denomination. We understand the interest. Since 2019, the Kentucky Annual Conference has provided five opportunities for churches to disaffiliate under a provision created by the United Methodist General Conference for congregations that are conflicted over the denomination’s long-standing debate over human sexuality.

However, there is more to our identity as United Methodists than difficult times of discernment around human sexuality. We want to share who we are with others. So, who are United Methodist, exactly?

In Kentucky, we have United Methodist churches that span almost the entire commonwealth. Together, the United Methodist denomination in Kentucky is 350 churches with 84,000 members. These are churches and people committed to Christ and to the communities where they serve.

Our remaining members are ready to step into a new reality with a leaner, nimbler desire to “Show the Love of God” – which just happened to be the theme of our 2023 gathering. As United Methodists, both clergy and laity, we are called to serve as disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

We will show the love of God by starting new faith communities throughout Kentucky. The Rev. Dr. Kimberly Pope-Seiberling, the conference’s director of New Church Development, sees a bright future: “Every week I hear about a new church who wants to do something new and dream big dreams.”

We show the love of God by feeding the hungry. Our churches provide sit-down meals, sponsor food pantries, and participate in backpack ministries.

We show the love of God by rebuilding communities after natural disasters. Between the December 2021 tornadoes in western Kentucky and the July 2022 flooding in eastern Kentucky, The United Methodist Church has answered the call to help our neighbor by providing housing in the immediate aftermath and by sending teams to help with rebuilding. The Rev. Gary Baker, who coordinates our conference’s Volunteers in Mission program, notes that a total of 65 United Methodists responded to mission trips to western Kentucky last fall and to eastern Kentucky this spring to help with the rebuilding. The United Methodist Church is known internationally for our disaster-relief work.

We show the love of God by introducing children and youth to that love at summer camp. Each year our two camps, Loucon and Aldersgate, host hundreds of children and teens, ranging from two-night camps for grandparents and grandchildren to weeklong camps geared for high  schoolers – and all ages in between.

Everything our camps do is geared to point our campers to God, to reach individuals where they are, and to share God’s love.

We also robustly support the mission of the Kentucky United Methodist Children’s Homes’ campuses in Nicholasville and Owensboro as they serve Christ by providing for the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs of children and families.

We show the love of God by nurturing young adults with our campus ministries. We have active ministries on 11 campuses in Kentucky, including all eight public universities. The United Methodist Church has more formal educational institutions than any other Protestant denomination. UMC-related higher-education institutions emphasize learning that incorporates a concern for the global community and a rigorous examination of the beliefs and values that students use to inform their lives.

We show the love of God in our churches by nurturing all age groups with spiritual growth and fellowship opportunities. We are in ministry with people throughout their lives, providing for the development and nurture of persons of any age. We strive to assist individuals and families in spiritual development and growth.

What fuels this desire in United Methodists to continually show the love of God? It is in our DNA; we are a denomination and a people born of the movement of the Holy Spirit.

We hold the same beliefs about Jesus that the church has held for 2,000 years. We share the same core beliefs that nondenominational churches, Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, and others have about Jesus. The Bible is the most significant voice and guide of the way we live as Christians. We believe that God gave us the Bible and that it shows us the truth and trains us to live God’s way.

We believe that God loves everyone. As John 3:17 says, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.” We know that God gives us his love and power so that we can have a relationship with him. We believe that Jesus is God’s Son, and that Jesus is God. We believe that he died for everyone, came back to life, went back to heaven, gave us his Spirit, and will return for the church.

We also believe everyone is welcome in church. Whatever our past, Jesus has a place for each of us in his family and at his dinner table. We strive to follow the “3 simple rules” of John Wesley, Methodism’s founder: “Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God.“

United Methodists are a people of a dynamic, sustaining movement. We bless  those who have recently left the denomination, and we pray that Jesus will bless their ministries. Meanwhile, for those of us who remain United Methodist, there is much work to do.
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For those interested in connecting with a United Methodist church in Kentucky, go to www.kyumc.org/churches.

Leonard Fairley has been bishop of the Kentucky Annual Conference since 2016. A version of this article – which reflects his views, as well as those of the members of the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Appointive Cabinet – has been shared with newspapers across Kentucky to use at their discretion.