“So What Should I tell people about Lockerbie Central?”

I had an interesting conversation yesterday.

I was getting some negative feedback about  our church through the Methodist grapevine.  The grapevine was reporting back that our church, Lockerbie Central United Methodist, wasn’t really “United Methodist.”

Well, the grapevine, as we all know, normally isn’t correct.

During this  conversation I was asked , “so, what should I tell people about Lockerbie Central?  Because, face it, you really aren’t United Methodist! Or at least, traditionally United Methodist.”

I stuttered for a bit and probably said something stupid.  But I thought about it more.

This is my response to that question and I do think its a good question.

You are right.  Lockerbie Central isn’t your normal run of the mill United Methodist Church.  We don’t have paid staff, including a paid pastor.    Paychecks aren’t bad but we had to decide between paychecks and turning the place into condominiums.

Look at all the old Methodist churches that are going to be closed down soon and are irrelevant to their communities?  Before you worry about Lockerbie Central,  please worry about those places!

Anyways, the laity and supportive clergy at Lockerbie Central  took over a building that had severe structural issues and an interior decorating crisis  (imagine what a 1950s nursing home must have looked like) and turned it into a safe space that now hosts arts events, social justice gatherings, yoga classes, and church services.  We took over a congregation that was losing $7,000 a month and is now on the verge of breaking even.  We took a place that nobody had heard of  and made it matter.  In face, Nuvo Newsweekly, Indianapolis’ alternative paper, voted us this summer the Best House of Worship.

Not too shabby.

In an aging  and relatively segregated denomination, we have somewhat of a multi-cultural congregation full of young adults with leadership responsibilities.   I am not sure you could find another UMC in Indiana where you would hear the words “full of young adults with leadership responsibilities.” We have even hosted a national conference showing off to other United Methodists from across the country what a small and struggling church can do; given the freedom and support.

Undoubtably, this a unique situation for a United Methodist congregation.  But, we do have some history on our side.  Many meetings (churches) in The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) don’t have paid pastors.   And wasn’t Paul a tent maker? And Jesus a carpenter laborer? And didn’t John Wesley, the founder of the church that we call United Methodist took the faith out of the traditional church and into the fields, factories, prisons, and mines? And didn’t he empower laity and common folk carry out the ministry of the church?

Yeah, we are different.  But don’t those UMC ads tell us to rethink church?


5 thoughts on ““So What Should I tell people about Lockerbie Central?”

  1. that’s a great answer!! =) I’m working on my ordination papers right now, and was trying to answer the question “what is the nature and mission of the church? and what are it’s tasks?” I think Lockerbie Central is exactly the kind of church the embodies what it means to be United Methodist.

  2. Great answer.

    Given the accusation in the question, your tone is quite reserved, but I wish we could all find ways to affirm many ways of being United Methodist – and truly being in the tradition of Wesleyan Methodism – without putting down others in subtle or not so subtle ways.

    The old folks at a rural church that is dying are trying to be as faithful as the good, young folks at Lockerbie Central. The men and women who attend the church I serve would no more feel comfortable or at Lockerbie than many at Lockerbie would like to attend the services at Prairie Chapel.

    How do we affirm both without calling one or the other illegitimate or somehow unfaithful?

    • Hey John. Thank you for comment, your blogs, the work that you do, and the voice that you provide.

      I do hope that we have created an enviroment that anyone would feel both comfortable and a bit uncomfortable in 🙂 Not sure if I am answering your question but I would hope that if a group from Prairie Chapel made the drive to Lockerbie that they would feel welcomed, empowered, and challenged. It might not be their cup of tea but it would be a good experience.

      As someone who grew up in Indy’s suburbs, lives in the city currently, and spends alot of time in rural Indiana (Bethlehem, Indiana), I am very curious about working with all types of churches as they figure out what it means to rethink church.

      • That would be an interesting field trip.

        Of course, 40 miles to Bloomington is a long drive for most of the folks at PC. I’m not sure a caravan up to central Indy would be a big selling point.

  3. An all too familiar story for me. Many in UMC leadership are not as much interested in how effective or innovative a church is, but how well it fits their preconceptions of what a UMC church was at one time. You can have all the art exhibits and justice ministries you want, but you will still have no legitimacy with them unless you have an elder and a UMW. Getting involved at the national level will also leave them unimpressed. In my experience, Conferences care about churches participating in Conference programs. In the past, I have been told that our church is thoroughly Wesleyan but not United Methodist enough. That leads to some interesting questions.

    Also, I don’t think you are putting down any other form of church or implying that the Lockerbie way is the right way. You have every right to stick up for what God is doing through your church and even be a little angry. In my experience the UMC has a DNA of not allowing people to defend themselves. Whenever one does, one is labelled as being mean or hurtful. I don’t buy it. Sometimes people are just plain wrong.

    God is doing great things through all of our churches, whether rural, urban and among all generations, and bringing people to Christ. What brand name that occurs under should be irrelevant.

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