By Jennifer Barber, Conference Archivist
Heritage Sunday calls the Church to remember the past by committing itself to the continuing call of God (The Book of Discipline ¶ 264.1)
Heritage Sunday is a day to celebrate our past accomplishments and our current ministries. It is recognized each year on Aldersgate Day or the preceding Sunday. A theme is selected each year, with the theme for 2015 being “Welcoming the Stranger.” This theme will highlight the work of those who welcomed the immigrant as well as immigration responses that are not U.S.-centric. It also includes the role hospitals, homes, orphanages, the poor, the outcast, and education have played in the history of The United Methodist Church.
United Methodism has a long history of welcoming strangers into our churches and communities. John Wesley set the welcoming tone for his preachers and societies through field preaching and social gospel works. British Methodist preachers helped to start a Strangers’ Friend Society late in Wesley’s lifetime to reach out to help those most in need. The aim of the Society was to help anyone in need regardless of religious belief or ethnicity. The Society’s ecumenical nature allowed Methodists to work with other religious bodies to meet these social and economic needs while providing spiritual guidance. Wesley fully endorsed the work of the Strangers’ Friend Society and promoted it when possible. Both the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association/Church welcomed strangers into their fellowships.
The Desert Southwest Conference and its predecessors have a long history of aiding and ministering to immigrants and underserved communities in Arizona and southern Nevada. In Phoenix, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of UMOM in 2014. The Justa Center and Wesley Center work with those who need a helping hand. Did you know that Good Samaritan Hospital (now Banner-University) was originally named Arizona Deaconess Hospital because it was started and ran by Methodist deaconess Lulu Clifton? In Tucson the TMM Family Services aids and ministers to those in need. Las Vegas has Open Doors Community Services (formerly United Methodist Social Ministries). There are campus ministries located at the universities within the Conference. The list of those who work to welcome the stranger is long and diverse. What works has your church done to welcome the stranger? Share and celebrate it!
Welcoming the stranger is part of United Methodism’s DNA. But the telling of the story has long been neglected. Let us recapture this story this Heritage Sunday and actualize it every day in our ministry to the community.
Resources to celebrate Heritage Sunday are available from the General Commission on Archives and History and Discipleship ministries.