Author Evy McDonald shares her experience writing United Methodist Women’s new study guide.
My sense of community and its importance can be traced back to my childhood. From the age of 4 until 10 I lived on North 42nd Street and Vernon Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska. My half of the block consisted of about three houses on each side of the street before the road headed down a steep hill. There were the Americas, Blakeneys, Mannerings, Stadies, Smiths and the McDonalds, of which I was one. Our families were more than neighbors—we were a community that took care of its members, watched over the children, bought food in time of need, counseled when a family was having difficulty, spent weekends together and laughed and cried at the ups and downs of life. While nothing was formalized, I knew I was safe and had a place to go, even if my parents were not home.
When we moved to a “better neighborhood,” I sensed that something valuable had been exchanged for a larger home. But it was not until I was a young adult that I realized what we had lost—it was a community based on a covenant of caring for one another. In my 30s, I became part of the New Road Map Foundation, a group of nine people who lived and worked together striving to make the world a better place.
It was here that I experienced, for the second time, the power of people living with intention, direction, purpose and love. For 17 years our lives were dedicated to caring for our world and thus for one another. We were more a formalized community than my childhood neighborhood, but I recognized the similarities. This was more of a David and Jonathan type of covenant, as it was our faith that bonded us together (even though we were of different religions) and gave us the courage to pledge our lives to a purpose much greater than any one or two of us. God was definitely at the center of all we did.
It was while I lived and worked in this second covenant community that I listened to God and felt a strong call to ordained ministry. However, throughout my journey to become an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and while leading churches, I experienced the lack of a community bonded by faith and dedicated to a purpose greater than ourselves. People cared, but they did not step far out of their own comfort zone to be there for a member in need or to serve in a community of people that lived at the margins of our society.
As if Jesus were here
This was my mindset when I was approached to write a book for the 2017 United Methodist Women spiritual growth study based on biblical covenants. I was asked to address how these covenants could inform our lives today. Little did I know how relevant and important this topic would become as we enter into the uncertainties of 2017 that are facing us as Christians, as United Methodists, as citizens of the United States and our world.
At first the task seemed daunting, perhaps beyond my capability. I am not a scholar versed in the covenants of the Bible. Yet I was asked, so somebody had faith in me. There was a moment when a familiar phrase jumped from my heart to my head: “God does not call the equipped. God equips those who answer the call.” I thought about Abram and Sarai, Moses, David, Deborah, Gideon, Mary, Esther and so many others who did not feel capable of what was being asked of them. Some immediately, others eventually, but all of them came to trust and follow the path they had been asked to walk. So I accepted the challenge.
A mountain of research loomed ahead of me. Yet, it was not frightening, nor did it seem insurmountable, for I was excited and eager to delve into this project. I learned a tremendous amount, and it was so much more than just the facts. Through my reading, I experienced individuals, couples, families and communities trusting God’s covenant with them. I learned that even when they backed away or turned from God, God remained faithful, always there to once again lead them when they were ready. It was God’s faithfulness despite anything anyone did (or we could do now) that cemented in my belief system the importance of our turning to God not simply as individuals but also as communities of faith.
I realized that the Church and United Methodist Women units were pivotal places where people could purposefully engage as covenantal communities willing to live together in new and exciting ways. However, most individuals, including myself, struggle with the tension between our personal desires and what involvement in a community may require. But I learned we only have to look to Jesus and the disciples for direction and inspiration. For it was here, in the last covenant explored in the study, that I found solid hope for everyone: Our world can be changed through me and each one of us who chooses to live as if Jesus were here right now.
This profound hope was both a surprise and a grace-filled gift. It reinforced my own belief that it is by consciously engaging our covenant-making God that we ourselves will become the people God knows we can be. Through this engagement with God, we can build communities of light, acceptance, tolerance and justice-making that can withstand any powers of darkness.
Journey of love
As I wrote, there were moments when I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information I needed to synthesize into small digestible bites that could, hopefully, end up giving each study participant a deep sense of spiritual nourishment. I seemed to move from a feeling of confidence to laughing about how something I wrote made no sense at all—but then that is part of the writing process. Many times I discovered a gem in the middle of sentences that I had put together that were not coherent at all, a key that was needed to enhance my understanding of a particular covenant or clarified a point that was necessary to make. The first time this happened all I could do was shake my head and say, “God you have a great sense of humor.” Nothing I wrote was wasted, even if a lot of it was thrown out!
The journey from invitation to acceptance, from research to writing, and then to rewriting and rewriting and editing and editing was a journey of love. Writing this book has brought me closer to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. My ability to see the Bible as one ongoing story deepened as I uncovered how the covenants were connected and built on one another.
It is my prayer and profound hope that if anyone chooses to do this study, they too will become excited about what it could mean for the world if we, as Christians, as United Methodist Women, as churches, as neighborhoods would join in covenant with God and one another. It is, truly, the journey we need to make in these times.
The Rev. Evelyn (Evy) R. McDonald is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and author of United Methodist Women’s spiritual growth study Living As a Covenant Community.