Paul begins his letter to the church at Ephesus by calling these early believers in Christ "saints."
He writes, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
United Methodists recognize Matthew, Paul, Mark, John, Luke and other early followers of Jesus as saints, and countless numbers of United Methodist churches are named after these saints.
Nov. 1 is All Saints Day, a sometimes-overlooked holy day in United Methodist congregations. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from Nov. 1, 1767, Wesley calls it "a festival I truly love." On the same day in 1788, he writes, "I always find this a comfortable day." The following year he calls it "a day that I peculiarly love."
This may sound odd. United Methodists don't believe in saints. Right?
Well, yes ... and no.
Wesley cautioned against holding saints in too high regard. The Articles of Religion include a statement against "invocation of saints" (Article XIV—Of Purgatory, The Book of Discipline 2012, Para. 104). However, he also advised against disregarding the saints altogether.
United Methodists call people "saints" because they exemplified the Christian life. In this sense, every Christian can be considered a saint.
We also recognize and celebrate All Saints' Day and "all the saints, who from their labors rest." All Saints' Day is a time to remember Christians of every time and place, honoring those who lived faithfully and shared their faith. On All Saints' Day, many churches read the names of their members who died in the past year.
We also remember all those – famous or obscure – who are part of the "communion of saints" we speak of in The Apostles' Creed. As we tell the stories of the saints "to glory gone," we remember how God has provided for us. The stories of the saints encourage us to be all God has created us to be. We also think of those with whom we worship, of fellow United Methodists who inspire us and other Christians who encourage us.
Additionally, we remember and pray for our sisters and brothers in Christ who faithfully follow Jesus in places where being labeled a Christian puts them in harm's way.
Adapted from "All Saints Day: A holy day John Wesley loved" by the Rev. Joe Iovino, published at www.umc.org.