A hunter in the desert saw Antony enjoying himself with the brothers, and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brothers, the old man said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” So he did. The old man then said, “Shoot another,” and the hunter said, “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.” Then the old man said to him, “It is the same with God’s work. If we stretch the brothers beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.” When he heard these words, the hunter regretted he had said anything, and he went away greatly edified by the old man. The brothers went home stronger. ---The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (Paraclete Essentials)
This saying of Father Anthony may not come to mind when considering the current state of the United Methodist Church, but I believe it speaks deeply.
It is not appropriate to assign different characters to different sides of the UMC, that is far too limiting. Rather, what I want to submit is how some of us in the Church want change that stretches the Church in one way or another. This work to stretch the Church is good but if we stretch too much we will break. This is my concern. Not that we are not stretching as a denomination but that we are stretching with such intensity that we are stretched beyond measure and we are breaking.
Echoing Anthony, I submit that sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet the needs of others in the Church out of compassion and concern for their needs. If we refuse to do so we will surely see the great bow of the UMC break.
Part of the beauty of this saying is the repentance of the hunter. He was sorry that he was in a place of non-compassion prior to hearing the Abba. The other beautiful part is Abba Anthony. He has a clear sense of what Christian community (church) ought to look like, but out of compassion for the brothers, he let go of his sense of justice and purity in order to make the brothers stronger.
Can we admit that we have been like the hunter and said things out of non-compassion?
Can we see the great witness of Anthony was so free in Christ that he let go of his own ego of what the church should be for the sake to build up others?