After ordination in 1967 I served as an Army Chaplain for three years. In 1971 I began an almost 30 year career in health care program development and management. In 1999 I became Executive Director of the National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran Ministers and in 2000 I added concurrent duties as Program Director, Health and Wholeness, for the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, a marvelous way of combining the prior clergy and healthcare careers. In the fall of 2000, I was asked, in addition, to temporarily serve as interim co-pastor of St. James United Methodist Church.
Facing challenging situations is not new to the five generations of Methodists of which I am a part.
Setting His Slaves Free
James Day, my great-great grandfather, a Revolutionary War solider, left the established Church of England and joined the Methodists sometime between 1796 and 1800. We know this, because he had inherited some slaves from his father-in-law, the Sheriff of Montgomery County, Maryland, and beginnng in 1796 he started setting them free--something the early Methodists required their new members to do. He was ordained a local elder by the Methodists--meaning he farmed for a living and preached when he could. He was an original trustee of the Bethesda United Methodist Church in Browningsville, Maryland.
Setting slaves free was not a popular thing to do. When slaves were freed, they joined a population of free people of color, everyone of whom was a reminder to other slaves and their masters that slavery did not have to exist. It was believed by many that the Bible justified slavery and if you accepted that idea, then these early Methodists appeared to attack the Bible itself. Furthermore, in a society where economics made slavery attractive, the stand of the early Methodist church was felt by many to be a hardship. By the time several decades had passed, the Methodist Church weakened its opposition fo slavery, and especially in the South, it became possible to own slaves and still be a good Methodist.
Founding a New Denomination
In 1831 James Day helped found a new denomination. The Methodist Episcopal Church was governed from the top down, and lay people had no say. This policy was out of step with the strong belief in democracy which Americans shared as a legacy of the Revolution. Compromise on the issue proved impossible, and those who insisted on more democracy helped found the "Methodist Protestant Church." One slogan from those times was "A church without a bishop for a country without a king!" James Day and others left the Bethesda Methodist Episcopal Church and founded the Providence Methodist Protestant Church in Kemptown, Maryland. Others called the new denomination "The Radical Church."
Farming vs. Ministry
Like his father James, Jackson Day, my great-grandfather, was a full time farmer. Like his father, he too had a call to ministry, and was an ordained local deacon in the Methodist Protestant Church. He left behind a small notebook recording the times he had preached sermons, baptized babies, and helped to bury the dead.
Helping Form a Union
Jackson Day's son Roby F. Day, my grandfather, was a graduate of Westminster (now Wesley) Theological Seminary, and was a full time pastor. His career included assignments in Texas and Illinois, and then Inwood, Long Island, New York, where he spent most of his career. He was President of the Eastern Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church, which was the closest the Methodist Protestants had to a bishop.
In 1939, the Methodist Protestant Church came together with the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to form The Methodist Church. Roby Day was a strong proponent of union among the different Methodists, even though there were many issues where not everyone was of the same mind.
Not all Methodist Protestants felt the same way. The Methodist Protestant Church in Allenwood, New Jersey, where he had retired, and in whose cemetery he is buried, did not come into the union in 1939, choosing instead to be an independent congregation.
Persuasion and Service: A Missionary Life
My father, J. Wesley Day, has spent his life as a Methodist missionary in China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Twin themes of his life might be described as persuasion and service. Both are vital to an ability to have an impact, make a difference. In today's church controversies, is either side willing to be persuaded by the other? Is either side willing to serve the other?
My own ministry has been primarily as a chaplain. A congregation's pastor can draw a line based on religion or affiliation or some other characteristic and say, "these are the people for whom I am responsible; for these others I am not. " A chaplain cannot do that. A chaplain is responsible to make sure that the religious needs of all those in his or her units are addressed, whether personnally or through someone of that individual's faith community.
I have been a student pastor, Army chaplain, administrator, program director and writer.