Tell me about your front porch story.
Often while leading a group, I will ask persons to share their front porch stories to help us become acquainted and build connections. I usually start sharing my memory of the front porch swing at my great-grandmother’s house. The old, weathered farmhouse sat in a clearing off the main road. We’d gather as a family on the porch to visit, reminisce and watch birds fly past.
I have found that most people have a story of a front porch, a screened-in back porch, a carport or a family cabin where friends and family gathered. There’s something truly inviting about a house with a front porch and a rocking chair or swing where people can sit and visit.
If you think, front porch stories are part of our connectional DNA as United Methodists. That’s because John Wesley used the image of a house with a porch as a metaphor for understanding the process of salvation. As Wesley saw it, the process began with an invitation through prevenient grace to join God up on the porch for a visit. Through the following conversations, people might choose to repent of their sins.
Having repented, they could choose to give their lives to Christ by walking through the door of justification by faith, entering the house or life of faith. Then they would begin the lifelong process of exploring the house and growing in faith that we call sanctification. While all Christians believe in grace, our distinctive Methodist understanding of these doctrines of grace shapes our teaching and connects us.
In our day, as in Wesley’s, many people don’t feel welcome on the porch. Jesus experienced this same reality and challenged people to be more accepting of one another. In Luke 15, Jesus taught about God’s concern for the lost by telling three parables about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. The woman diligently sweeping, the shepherd searching the hillsides, and the father watching the road for his wandering son, are images of God. They assure us God still searches for people who have lost their way. They don’t know how to come home for a visit up on the porch.
Perhaps it is time for all of us in the Missouri Conference to revisit our front porch stories to remind us of our human need for connection. As followers of Jesus, we have something to offer. The message of God’s unearned, unlimited grace could be as inviting as a glass of lemonade on a hot day to people who feel excluded or marginalized.
Jesus’ parables remind us others are looking for an invitation up on the porch and a connection to become part of God’s family. Although we have struggled with the loss of friends, colleagues, and congregations through the disaffiliation process, we must not lose sight of God’s gifts to us: the gospel story of Jesus’ love, our personal experiences of grace, the spiritual gifts of persons in our churches and the presence of the Holy Spirit to empower our work.
We’ve been blessed to enjoy the view from up on the porch for years. In this time of transition and change, how can we open our eyes to people who have wandered away like the lost sheep or unintentionally disconnected from family like the lost coin or even turned their backs on God’s amazing love? Our Conference directors of leadership excellence and congregational excellence and our lay ministry team have resources available to help us widen our welcome. You can find them at www.moumethodist.org/resourcelibrary.
Think back to your front porch story. Do you remember how it felt? Who can resist such an invitation: a warm, breezy day, a porch swing, and a loving savior who wants to hear our story? It’s part of our connectional DNA to share this invitation. All we have to do is make the offer.