Local Church Remains at the Heart: Reflections from Professor Cheryl B. Anderson
May 24, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Cheryl B. Anderson, Professor of Old Testament
On Sunday, May 19, 2019, Grace United Methodist Church (UMC) of Gaithersburg, Maryland, celebrated its 175th anniversary with a special homecoming service. I had served as the associate pastor of that church from 1990-1993. As is often done, they invited previous pastors to return and three of us did. We were asked to speak for only five minutes — and that’s not an easy task for those who speak for a living!
It’s important to know that I was the first associate pastor, the first woman, and the first African American to serve that congregation. It was a risk for the bishop to appoint me there, but things turned out beautifully. To this day, I am deeply touched by the extravagant hospitality that the congregation extended to me and I expressed my gratitude to them in my remarks.
My hope for the congregation was that they would include those who are different from them in various ways today as warmly as they had accepted me all of those years ago. The day before going to the church, I happened to look at the Grace UMC website. It was so gratifying to see that they had an inclusive statement of welcome there. They were already living out the hope that I had for them! Grace UMC, I do indeed thank God every time I remember you (Philippians 1:3)!
When thanking the congregation for such hospitality, I realized how much that congregation has shaped my commitments as a seminary professor. My vocation as a seminary professor is based on the desire to train those who will pastor congregations and, in my classes, I often have students work on Bible studies and sermons that will inspire and stretch congregations — but not demean or berate them. My experience earlier this month reminded me that my appointment to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary may be “an appointment beyond the local church,” but the local church (Grace UMC, in particular) remains at the heart of what I do.