Last month I received one of the nicest compliments I have ever heard. It came after I preached for a Sunday service in one of our Indiana Area churches. As I greeted the congregation after the service, a woman came by, shook my hand, smiled, and said, "I was proud to be a United Methodist today."

Now, I don't really think she was talking about me or my sermon, although it sure felt good to hear such a comment. I think she was saying: having our bishop present, seeing our United Methodist "connection" in person, and being a part of this global church reminded me that I am proud to be a United Methodist."

I agree with her.

I am proud to be a United Methodist. I know all too well that our church is not perfect. One of the hardest things about being a bishop is that this position allows me to see the "underbelly of the church" -- as one of my Superintendents described it so well recently. Yes, I know all about our problems, our struggles to be united, our tension between being congregational and being connectional, and our human failures and foibles. I see those problems all too often, and I am saddened and even disgusted by those things.

And yet, I find my deeper and more abiding feeling is one of pride. Every time I preach in one of our local congregations -- large or small -- I see people who are dedicated to Christ, caring about one another and about their community, and committed to making a difference in the world � in the world, not just in their local area. Everywhere I go, I find United Methodist people who are living out their faith in their daily lives, truly working to love the Lord and to love people. Each time we have a disaster or a significant crisis anywhere in the world, I see United Methodist people and organizations rushing in to care, to feed the hungry, to educate the children, to fight for justice, and to comfort the bereaved. In most every community here in Indiana, I see United Methodist people serving in government, community groups, and other agencies which seek to benefit those communities. Again and again, I read reports of amazing generosity from our United Methodist people as they respond to needs locally and globally.

I am proud to be a United Methodist. I am proud to be a part of a church which is truly global in nature, mission-minded to its core, committed to improving the lives of children all over the world, and eager to welcome new folks when they walk in the door on Sunday morning or any other day of the week. And increasingly I see the United Methodist Church becoming a praying church, a church which studies the Bible (to date, over 1.75 million United Methodists have graduated from Disciple Bible Study alone, among many other popular curricula), and a community of faith which is fervently spiritual (just think of how many United Methodists have participated in things like Walk to Emmaus). Our United Methodist Church has started more colleges and universities, more hospitals and homes, and more mission agencies than any other group in the US. We as United Methodist are true to our Wesleyan heritage, and we care about personal piety and social holiness. We are the church of both/and, not a church of either/or.

I am proud to be a United Methodist when I meet with our pastors and clergy, too. We have so many dedicated, faithful, caring, educated, praying, and committed pastors. Many of them serve faithfully year after year in places where they don't get much fanfare, where the kinds of phenomenal growth and success of other pastors in large communities seems to overshadow them. Some of our pastors serve in congregations where their lives are made miserable by a few cranky parishioners. Some even have to endure hardships and sacrifices quietly and patiently. And yet, our pastors serve where they are asked to go (most of the time), they stay connected with our system (even if they do have a few gripe sessions about it), they treat one another with respect (and a little teasing), and they yearn for our church to be even more vital and alive. Every time I am involved in a funeral for one of our United Methodist clergy I am overwhelmed by the stories told of how that pastor made a huge difference in the lives of people through caring, effective, and Christ-like ministry.

I am proud to be a United Methodist. You, the people called United Methodists here in Indiana, you make me proud.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner