Posts Tagged ‘General Conference’

One of my responsibilities in the United Methodist Church is to serve on the General Conference Standing Committee for Central Conference Matters. Essentially, that group deals with issues facing the UM church outside of the United States.

In 2012 the General Conference referred the task of creating a “global Book of Discipline” to the StCCCM. As we began to tackle that project during our meeting in September, we realized just how massive it is – and probably more importantly, just how complex, convoluted, and in many ways unmanageable our current Discipline really is.

The whole project of a global Book of Discipline begs the question, what does it mean to be a global church? What binds us together across cultures and geography? And therein lies the rub. I’m not sure we know. I’m not even sure we know what binds us together across the various cultures and geography of the United States, let alone Europe, Africa or the Philippines.

Throughout the StCCCM meeting, my mind kept returning to another of my responsibilities in ministry – serving on the World Methodist Council. Now there’s a global body – over 80 different churches (denominations) representing over 80.5 million people, on every continent across the entire planet (well, maybe not Antarctica), all sharing a common Wesleyan heritage.

As I thought about these parallel and intertwined groups – the UMC and the WMC – I was reminded of the Imperatives of World Methodist Evangelism, which the WMC recently agreed was a good summation of what binds us together as a global body:

 

Imperatives of World Methodist Evangelism: “Reason for the Hope within Us” (1 Peter 3.15)

In the context of a global contemporary culture, it is imperative that “the people called Methodists” be bound by a recognition that we are a movement of missionary people called by God, who in Himself is missionary. We are called to join with Him in His global mission to the whole of creation. Therefore it is incumbent upon us, as World Methodists, to revisit and restate in clearly articulate terms that which binds us together:

1) The Centrality of Jesus Christ in Reconciling the World to God

  • We have confidence in and a passion for the Gospel and we affirm its urgency.
  • We hold Jesus Christ central in everything and emphasize that He is Lord and Savior.
  • We lift up the importance of “conversion to Jesus Christ” and of faithfully making disciples throughout the world. (2 Corinthians 5.18-19; 1 Corinthians 9.16)

2) Connectivity

  • As Methodists we are one people in all the world, connected through our Wesleyan heritage as well as through being part of one Church, holy and apostolic.
  • We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ’s Commission to His Church to preach the gospel and to make disciples of all nations is the supreme business of the church.
  • In this spirit we are sent to serve others and together to engage in world mission and evangelism. (Matthew 28.19)

3) Salvation for all

  • Today more than ever, identifying needs and addressing them are crucial if we are to faithfully proclaim the Gospel and spread Scriptural holiness throughout the world.
  • We affirm the “Four-alls of Methodism” as being distinctive: All need to be saved. All can be saved. All can know that they are saved. All can be saved to the uttermost. (Mark 16.15; Ephesians 2.8; 2 Corinthians 5.14-15; 1 Timothy 2.3-4; Hebrews 7.25)

4) Openness to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit

  • The Holy Spirit moves all over the world.
  • The Holy Spirit gave birth the Church.
  • The Holy Spirit continues to empower the Church to grow through witness and ministry in the world.
  • Wherever a church is open to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, it is alive and vibrant in faith, hope and witness. (Acts 1.8; Romans 12.6-8; 1 Corinthians 12.8-11)

5) Every Christian is called to witness to the good news of Christ Jesus.

  • This witness is incarnational.
  • The Church as a community of faith is the witness of Christ in the world.
  • Each Christian is called to witness for Christ in the situation in which one lives.
  • Church leaders are to equip, empower and enable members to understand the context for witness.
  • This understanding helps believers to be confident and competent to share their faith through word, deed and sign. (Luke 4.18-19; Acts 1.8; Romans 15.18-19)

about-portrait6) Evangelism grounded in Scripture and Prayer.

  • Evangelism is grounded in the Holy Bible, the foundation for doctrine, teaching, preaching and practice.
  • Evangelism is also grounded in prayer, both personal and corporate. (Ephesians 6.18-19; Colossians 4.2-4)

 

If this can bind a global body of over 80 diverse denominations (and you only need to look at the difference between the Methodist Church of Nigeria and the Uniting Church of Australia to see how diverse it is), might it be a start in thinking about what binds our single denomination? Maybe we’ll surprise ourselves and find we actually agree.

 

 

Kim Reisman

Kim Reisman

What’s your next step?

It’s a good question – in this case as it relates to the United Methodist Church – what’s our next step? General Conference is a (sort of) distant memory; our regional Jurisdictional Conferences have come and gone. Various groups and people have publically staked out their claims about keeping their covenants or breaking them. So what’s next?

Jason Vickers

Jason Vickers

Now that my PhD work is officially over I’ve begun trying to catch up on my reading. Jason Vickers’ book, Minding the Good Ground: A Theology of Church Renewal was a timely read in the aftermath of all the church politics that have unfolded thus far in 2012. The book is full of important insights that are particularly relevant to the current state of affairs in the UMC. I hope to explore some of those insights over the next several posts.

The first idea I want to highlight comes at the very end of the book – literally the next to last page. Jason writes:

…Many liberals and evangelicals are blinded to the shifts taking place around them precisely because they cannot take their eyes off one another long enough to take notice. It is as though evangelical and liberal Protestants are locked in a death embrace in which both sides are equally obsessed with killing one another. All the while, we keep buried in our basements the solid food for which a spiritually hungry generation is searching far and wide.*

I’m not sure I’ve read a better description of General Conference 2012. But more than that – Jason is spot on in his insight when it comes to the overall UMC. That’s what troubles me. How can we really understand the nature of the church, of what God has called us to be and do in the world, if we are so distracted?

Many folks these days talk about reviving the ‘movement’ nature of Methodism as a way of renewing the UMC. I find that somewhat ironic since in its institutionalism, the UM of today resembles the Church of England of John Wesley’s day. Being or behaving like a movement seems unlikely. A better option might be Wesley’s own approach of seeking ‘the lost sheep of United Methodism.’**

For that to happen though, we’ve got to take our eyes off each other long enough to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit, on whom the very life of the church depends.

 

*Jason Vickers, Minding the Good Ground: A Theology for Church Renewal (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2011), 106

**In Reasons Against a Separation from the Church of England, Wesley described his work as being for ‘the lost sheep of the Church of England.’

 

 

2012 IN AC logoAt the Celebration of Ministry Service at Annual Conference in Indianapolis last week, I was struck again by how we in the Methodist tradition continually strive to invoke the Holy Spirit upon the life of the church and upon those who are to order and lead it: in the midst of conference and bishop, in the call to itinerant forms of ministry and accountability, we confess how dependent we are upon the Spirit to share in the mission of the whole church. I was struck by the way we are to order our lives not simply toward God but toward one another, and by the way our guiding vision always takes a particular shape during a particular time regardless of the challenges. It was a grace-filled moment, to be sure, but also a reminder of the true end to which Christ calls each of us.

In a letter to John Smith on June 25, 1746, John Wesley, in reflecting on the Methodist movement, wrote, “What is the end of all ecclesiastical order? Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God? And to build them in his fear and love? Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not it is worth nothing.”

Wesley’s quote captures the deeply missional thrust of the people called Methodists: a church’s pattern of organization and authority – or polity – must be oriented toward the church’s mission of saving souls or making disciples. How we order our lives must somehow support that basic mission. As Wesley would say elsewhere:  if we can’t find ways to organize the church toward these ends, then we might as well let the devil win!

As United Methodists we have spent a great deal of energy over the years trying to align our organization more purposefully with our mission. As historian Russell Richey of Emory University has stated, Methodists have always tried to develop appropriate structures that would sustain and nourish their mission depending on the era. What have remained constant over time are those elements that have been distinctive to Methodists from early on: conference, episcopacy, itinerant ministry, and forms of accountability. While these aspects do not provide a full account of Methodist polity, the loss of any of them would diminish something unique to the Methodist way of sharing in God’s mission.

To be sure, it’s a tall order to keep these four elements together, especially during a time of historic transition. It would be easy, for example, to fall into the trap of wanting to do away with one of these principles at the expense of another. It would also be tempting to see the role of the Holy Spirit as only working in our individual lives or congregations as against the structures of the wider church as an institution. And yet, as our history indicates, our polity has persisted through time not just because we have the right structures but because we are actively seeking to respond to what the Spirit is doing.

Such characteristics, of course, are not unique to United Methodists. Other Pan-Methodists and Wesleyan Holiness churches have also struggled with matters of discipline and order – African Methodist Episcopal and Free Methodists come to mind. They are reminders that questions of mission and polity go hand-in-hand in the Wesleyan tradition.

Andy Kinsey

Andy Kinsey

Celebrating in worship at Annual Conference, and praying for those who were being commissioned and ordained, I was moved at how Methodism seeks to order its life as a mission-driven community of faith. Again and again, we invoked God’s Spirit as we sent out those who will serve among us, sharing in ministries of mutual accountability, and renewing our covenant to be faithful to the example of Christ. It was a hope-filled moment, to say the least.

However, as we think about the future of the United Methodist Church, we may also want to ask ourselves why these four elements in our polity have persisted throughout our history. We may want to ask what these may mean in light of our present challenges. As General Conference in Tampa revealed we have much work to do.

 

 

Andy Kinsey serves as the Wesleyan Theologian on the Leadership Table of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church and as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin, Indiana.

 

Matrix Mentor, Maxie D. Dunnam

Maxie D. Dunnam - Kingdom Catalysts

The heat is rising in United Methodism since General Conference. Retired Bishop Mel Talbert poured fuel on what have been dying embers only hours after the adjournment of the conference. He urged ministers to disregard the church’s position on human sexuality and perform same sex weddings if the laws of their state allowed it. A number of bishops, some retired but others who are active, stood with him as he made his passionate appeal to what he believes is a justice issue being violated by the church.

Minerva Carcano

Bishop Minerva Carcano

Within a month, Arizona Bishop Minerva Carcaño appealed to our African brothers and sisters to “grow up”…not a very polite, much less Christian, way to talk about the segment of our movement that is growing and impacting a continent for Christ. Carcaño’s thoughtlessness obviously flowed from the fact that the Africans have found their voice and are expressing an understanding and commitment to the Gospel that differs from hers.

The latest as of this writing is the New England Conference General Conference delegation’s claim that we must recognize and affirm our differences and that all the structures of the church (including bishops and the General Conference) must be ordered in a way to support but not control the local expression of the faithful.

New England ACThat sounds a bit like having your cake and eating it too! No accountability defined by the “whole community.” On the contrary, they suggest that the majority bodies of the church might need to be guided by the minority, though funding would still come from the majority.

The New England Annual Conference is not large nor is it growing. Numbers are not the ultimate measure but it may be worth something to ask if there are reasons growth is taking place in some areas and not in others.

Significantly, I did agree with one position of the New Englanders. They contended that strength and vitality will not be found in structures but in our identity as a spiritual movement, grounded in the grace of God and linked by common practices of personal and social holiness.

I agree; but I would invite them to consider that Jesus not only incarnated grace, he incarnated and called for truth. His followers have truth/authority, which is not relative. In the church, truth is posited in what we designate as “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” That truth can’t casually be altered by cultural norm.

Human sexuality is the issue that is tearing our church apart. Scripture, the church through the ages, and our present UM Church believes the practice of homosexuality violates the call both to personal and social holiness. It is impossible for me to imagine that we can grant the desire of a small segment of the church that they have support and freedom to deal with this issue as they please.


Kim Reisman

Kim Reisman

I’m puzzled by the assertion of the New England delegation to General Conference that the body of Christ might have no common identity…

I’m also wondering how exactly we are to be ‘resourced but not controlled’ by the support structures of the Church?

Read on for the full New England Delegation Statement…

New England ACAnd no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.  (Mark 2:22 The NIV)

In 2012 the United Methodist Church came of age. We may not know it yet, but when the motion to adjourn General Conference came at 10:45 on Friday evening, May 4, from Joey Lopez of North Carolina, we were launched from the cozy confines of the nest that had sheltered us for the last 44 years into a new world that we can hardly begin to imagine.

Some of us may have sensed it at the time, but for most of us there has been a growing realization that what we have been counting on to save our church will never be sufficient for the task. If we were depending on getting our legislative house in order, we failed to do so. If we were hoping that instituting strong centralized leadership would be the panacea, all the plans went up in smoke. If we thought a common theological perspective, or a unified worldview, or new language around inclusion would rescue us—none of these were anywhere to be seen.

The reality is that the United Methodist church is too big and too diverse to be held together by any of the centers we have relied upon for more than four decades. We will not be saved by our bishops, our polity, our structure, our metrics, our theology, our doctrine, our social principles, or by Roberts Rules of Order. Thank God! What Tampa taught us is that the vitality of United Methodism is not to be found in any of its structures. Our strength and our unity lie in our identity as a spiritual movement, grounded in the grace of God and linked by common practices of personal and social holiness. Nothing more, nothing less.

We in the New England delegation are convinced that all efforts to impose a common identity on the Church theologically, ecclesiologically or culturally are not only doomed to failure, but actually thwart the attempts of United Methodist Christians to follow faithfully in the ways of Jesus Christ. We believe that the old Church with its old myths of a common identity imposed from the center has failed. We further hold that any new structures that emerge in the years ahead must emphasize relationship among the wonderfully diverse parts of our communion rather than uniformity of practice across the connection. Further, such plans must not only permit, but must encourage communities to freely meet the needs of people in their own contexts, resourced but not controlled by the support structures of the church. Such structures includeThe Discipline, the episcopacy, the General Conference and the boards and agencies.  Each exists only to equip and serve the servants of God’s people. (emphasis added)

Observations

  • We are not defeated or dismayed by what happened and what did not happen at the General Conference. We in the New England delegation, while recognizing that much of what we had hoped for may not have come to fruition, understand that the aftermath of General Conference presents us with new opportunities to reshape the church in a more just and equitable fashion. This opportunity is offered not just to those who attended General Conference but to all in the UMC who are called to serve God’s people.
  • The expanding role of the Central Conferences, both numerically and politically, has created a new reality in the church. The church can no longer operate from a US-centric perspective at General Conference, nor will the theological and cultural norms with which those of us in the US have become familiar suffice for us going forward. Our future will not be a recapitulation of our past. There are difficult challenges ahead as the UMC attempts to address worldwide structure issues. Ours is a church divided by language, culture, theology, social perspective and economic means, just to name a few. We are hampered by the reality that enabling legislation to create the framework for a new worldwide structure failed four years ago because many in the church were afraid of what it might portend. (Proposed Constitutional amendments that would have eliminated the term “Central Conferences” in favor of “Regional Conferences” and would have included the US as one of those regions were passed by General Conference, but not endorsed by the required number of persons voting in the annual conferences.) Still, we can find hope and unity if we can envision ways for our Wesleyan heritage to keep us in relationship and our structure to allow us to minister freely and fully in our unique contexts. If we can rise to this challenge, we may well be on the verge of the richest blessings our church has yet known.
  • Any plan for reorganization of the church needs to begin almost immediately and have broad buy-in from many voices, so that it arrives at GC 2016 with momentum and consensus already established. We must move away from the notion of proportional representation (i.e. areas with the largest membership get the greatest say) and ask instead which perspectives need to be represented in creating our new church. It may well be that constituencies that are entirely under-represented at the moment are key to the future of the denomination. Whatever we do, it must be crystal clear that the purpose of any plan is to enable ministry and not to consolidate power.
  • Annual Conferences must monitor closely the new power that has been put in the hands of the bishops to withhold appointment from elders in good standing in order to make certain that this tool is not being used to inhibit prophetic and/or inclusive ministry. Clergy sessions of the annual conference must be especially vigilant in this area. Additionally we need proactive guidelines for missional appointment-making that protect prophetic preaching and preserve racial, ethnic and gender diversity in our pulpits. The legislation passed by the General Conference was intended to ensure more effective pastoral leadership in our churches. We remind ourselves and our appointive authorities that effectiveness can only be truly assessed by taking into consideration the contexts into which persons are sent.
  • The New England Delegation is clear that the unity of the church cannot come at the expense of being a fully inclusive church.  Council of Bishops President Rosemary Wenner’s apology to GLBT United Methodists for the harm that our church has caused was a much welcomed and long overdue word, but we need more than words. The majority of our delegation remains committed to the creation of a UMC where all God’s people are welcome to share all of their gifts.
  • We believe that the most fruitful change in any organization always comes from the edges and never from the center. We are encouraged that the conversation has continued in so many places after General Conference. We are concerned that these conversations are still confined to the US and challenge those who are engaged in them to expand the circle to the Central Conferences. Still, we are pleased that so many people still care so passionately about the church we all love.

One word from the New England delegation is that ‘any plan for reorganization of the church needs to begin almost immediately.’

So what’s our next step? Let the conversations begin…

 

MLM-splash-3

Making Life Matter

 

Making Life Matter is a weekly 30 minute Christian inspirational and teaching program hosted by Maxie Dunnam and Shane Stanford. Next Step partners with Kingdom Catalysts to bring you MLM, which tackles issues of faith and life in order to deepen discipleship and encourage strong connections between following Jesus and living in today’s world. Mark your calendars to visit Next Step and listen regularly. Click below to hear today’s program.

 

The View from Here

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 | By John Meunier
Filed in: John Meunier, The View from Here

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To serve the present age

John Meunier

John Wesley wrote these words in a letter once: “I am not careful for what may be a hundred years hence. He who governed the world before I was born, shall take care of it likewise when I am dead. My part is to improve the present moment.”

These words came back to me as I have been contemplating the work of the United Methodist General Conference taking place in Tampa. It seems so much of the General Conference is taken up with matters of history and concern for the future. More than once I have heard people speak about saving the UMC and raising questions about whether it will still exist in 50 or 100 years.

I find myself confronting such questions in the little church I serve as well. It is on the small end of tiny with a rather high average age. It, too, spends a lot of time remembering the past and worrying about the future.

But I take John Wesley’s counsel to be very similar to that of Jesus Christ. Do not worry about tomorrow. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

And so, I find myself asking what I am doing to improve the present moment. What will I do today to advance good and arrest evil? What way will I nurture by spirit and my body so they might be strong enough to serve the kingdom?

As a church, might we ask the same questions. As a denomination?

It reminds me of the words of that other famous Wesley:

A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.

The View from Here

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 | By Joy Moore
Filed in: Joy Moore, The View from Here

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GC 2012 Has a long way to goJoy Moore

The opportunity to gather every four years with those who fellowship as United Methodists is a great privilege. I am reminded of our vibrant connectionalism as I reconnect with friends and colleagues I have met over the past years at various denominational events. During the morning break, I was able to greet again Bishop Judith Craig, who ordained me in the West Michigan Conference in 1991. The day before I saw one of my former students and learned he has been appointed to be a superintendent. My current students have been surprised to see former pastors from their Field Education placements, or international delegates they met on mission opportunities. It doesn’t take long to meet many within the Methodist family, and the reunion is a glimpse of the reconciliation Jesus offers us.

The opening service of worship illuminated our diversity through its style, participation, and language. From the opening hymn written by Charles Wesley, to new choruses written especially for this gathering, our music ranges from traditional to contemporary. Whether drawn together by a Native American ritual or an African drum, the sounds of United Methodism move across time and continent.

Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go to demonstrate to the world how we love one another. Immediately after Bishop Larry Goodpastor’s sermon about following Jesus, the voting members of General Conference, in tweaking and failed votes to adopt the Rules of Order for these proceedings, exposed our deep mistrust and misgivings about how we will work together. Much of our deliberations quickly move to debate.

So much of the activity at General Conference is reworking, rewriting, and restating the language exchanged among and by United Methodists. As careful as we are to set the rules, we seem careless in our willingness to follow the guidelines once they exist. This is evident in more than ordering our process. The extravagant worship experience bears little resemblance to a service moving from gathering the dispersed members of our community together into the presence of the God who scatters us in service. Very few of our words serve as a reminder of our shared heritage as the people of the God revealed in Jesus Christ empowered by the Spirit. Very little of the time set aside for corporate worship of God, rehearses the story of God’s faithful activity to reconcile the world as demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus. Mirroring the culture at large, the service highlights our race, gender, age, ethnicity and culture. We are indeed a diverse assembly. But what is it we share that testifies to our unity, saying the Lord’s prayer notwithstanding.

Unlike the multinational multicultural gathering described as Pentecost in Christian Scripture, our diverse tongues fail to declare the works of God. We express pain, brokenness, and desire. We pledge to be different, we long to be better, but God rarely gets a sentence with a strong verb describing divine justice reconciling the world. If God shows up at all in our litany of prayers and songs, rarely is there a rehearsal of God’s action in a dramatic way that would cause someone to pause in reverence and gratitude. The biblical narrative is insignificant; ancient Israel absent; our hope in what God is doing in Christ to reconcile the world abandoned for Pelagian promises.

Evidently designed by committee, the ordering of worship has the feel of hearing an iPod playlist randomly shuffle from Bach to Beyonce by way of a Burger King commercial. While our efforts to include as many cultural and ethnic expressions is admirable, what is extraordinary about gathering as a community is the common unity of a shared testimony. Our shared testimony seems to be a litany of lament and longing . Where is the Christian witness to the Triune God that testifies to a hope that God transforms us and the world? Where is the testimony to the presence of God’s reconciling power that convinces a watching world that said God still intends justice and truth to prevail? Where is the good news that God’s faithful activity in the world is trust-worthy because of what God has done in the past?

We know so little of the biblical witness to God, most do not recognize that this testimony is even absent in our worship. We speak of the effects of encountering God rather than of God reconciling creation. We ignore the words of Scripture which challenge the people of faith to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before God. God is not sought for being God, but for what we demand be done in the name of God.

In these quadrennial gatherings, much is revealed in the ways we worship. Our words name who and what is important for us; what drives our lives; what we seek and long for. Would that first we humbly seek God. If we believe Jesus promise to be with us always, maybe we can trust the Holy Spirit continues to sustain even the United Methodist Church. That would be a first step toward transformation in the world. Then all these other things will be added. Written by Joy Moore

UMC General Conference website

 

 

A Worldwide Church: The Pain of Growth and Pruning

 

I’m finding blogging any deeper than a tweet is next to impossible as the General Conference workload and tension/stress level begins to intensify. To tide you over, check out the article I wrote for Seedbed.com:

A Worldwide Church: The Pain of Growth and Pruning.

 

 

 

Let the Games Begin…

Tampa, Florida

An awesome opening worship experience, albeit a bit over-orchestrated. But wow! Great singing, great preaching, meaningful Eucharist – the always amazing stuff of General Conference.

A few interesting moments…

  • Opening a Christian worship service with a non-Christian ritual (important to experience, but maybe before worship?)
  • The smell of reefer (burning palm leaves?) wafting through the auditorium during the opening ritual
  • The Mayor of Tampa referring to the group as clergymen and lay people
  • Having to be told, “please, PLEASE do not ask to touch another person’s hair”

 

A few cool things…

  • Translating everything into seven languages
  • 37% of the delegates are women
  • 41% of the delegates are from outside the US
  • Nifty wireless electronic voting pads (but with lots of instructions :-( )
  • Attendance tonight – 4700
UMCGC 2012 logo

UMC General Conference 2012

 

And now the business (tedium?) of the evening begins…we get the rules sorted out…