Methodists vs. Universalists

I went to the Methodist Church this morning to get back in touch a bit with my childhood roots.

To some extent I was comparing it to the Unitarian Universalist Church I went to last weekend.

Accessibility: This one went to the Methodists hands down. They’re right by Vandy, and what is more important they’re accessible by bus. To get to the UU Church I had to walk through the lawns of a string of $500,000 houses because they’re half a mile down a busy road with no sidewalk from the closest bus stop. (I’m giving my car to MPP.)

Friendliness: This was what bothered me the most at the UU church. I stood around for a long time and almost no one said “hi.” How a community treats strangers is important to me. In the Methodist Church I had at least half a dozen people say “mornin'” to me or introduce themselves. In fairness though, I was at the morning service at the UU church, and a good percentage of the folks there were guests themselves.

Study: This one I’m not really fit to judge. The UUs have a meditation room open between the early and late services when the Methodists have Sunday school. Sunday school was somewhat interesting, but we didn’t really dig into anything. I didn’t try the meditation room. I’m really wanting to talk to people and understand their positions as of late. I just want them to be a little older than me (which the average college student isn’t).

Sanctuary: The UUs have a glass sided open chapel that sort of flows into the rest of the building. The Methodists are a bit more old school and have the stained glass and lots of dark toned wood. All in all, I’d go with the UUs.

Service: This one is a bit harder to gauge because the Methodists pretty much told me what was going on during Sunday School. With the UUs, all I have is their website. They both seem interested in what is going on in the world, but the Methodists did have a guy come up and talk about intestinal parasites in Nicaragua before the Communion and there was a special collection to buy drugs for kids.

Liturgy: I know and enjoy the Methodist songs, and they sang more than the UUs. They also did a Communion which I like the structure of, particularly because the openness was emphasized a couple times. I respect and recognize the reasons that the UUs structure their service so that implications for a particular belief system are limited. It’s difficult for me to connect with it at as visceral a level as I do with the Methodist structures that I did weekly for the first twenty or so years of my life.

Sermon: Philosophically, I believe that the spiritual substance that the Methodists are connecting with and call Jesus is something slightly more universal than some of them realize. I can however go and be with them and call God that name, and not be disrespectful to my beliefs. In many ways it strengthens them because it helps me to see my connection to other people and to the divine that goes beyond our words and ideas.

The preacher at the Methodist Church though made it pretty tough. He kept saying things like “we are working toward a world where everyone is joined in God, just us Christians have advance knowledge.” Things that were explicitly exclusive of other perspectives, and even though I can respect his personal connection to God, I was frustrated that he was acting as a misleading example to the assembled people congregated to listen to him.

The UUs however had a professional ethicist from Vanderbilt who came in and discussed her perspectives on faith and healing, specifically looking at not only how faith played into the patient’s experience, but looking at the role of faith in the needs of the people connected to the patient. It was insightful and uplifting.

Overall: I really don’t know. If I could take the sense of community and devotion to structure from the Methodists and mash it in with the universalizing values and diversity of the Universalists then I think I’d be happy. Next week I’m going back to the Methodists, they’re doing a college luncheon and looking for warm bodies to eat their free BBQ, I figure the only compassionate thing to do is help them out. ☺

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