For the first time since 1968, the United Methodist Council of Bishops has called a special session of General Conference. The Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council have faithfully and diligently done their work, leaving the future church in the sacred wisdom of the delegates.
The global church watches and waits as delegates gather Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis. Millions are regularly upholding the special General Conference in prayer.
Conferences across the global church are convening formal and informal listening sessions with lay, clergy, boards, agencies and caucuses. As a General Conference delegate, I have had the honor and privilege of leading three listening sessions in the Wisconsin Conference. Faithful United Methodists have shared their passions, beliefs, convictions, feelings, fears, concerns, hopes and promises.
With a sense of bewilderment and lack of clarity, they also have reflected and critiqued the proposed One Church Plan, Connectional Conference Plan and Traditional Plan.
In one gathering, a participant asked, “How many of us here are under 50 years old?” Three hands went up. The participant challenged delegates to keep present and future generations in mind while deliberating and making decisions.
The average age of United Methodists in the pews is 57. I truly believe the future of our church belongs to people of all ages, nations and races, especially millennials and post-millennials.
Delegates – 864 strong – are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of making it or breaking it. Some have expressed legitimate fear about what happens if nothing comes from the special General Conference.
Delegates cannot afford to waste anything. This calls for responsibility coupled with accountability. This means focusing on the purpose and the end result. Christ’s Resurrection is the foundation and bedrock of our Christian faith. The decades-old impasse will cease only when delegates do whatever it takes to focus on becoming a resurrected church.
Shall we, as delegates, make a commitment, echoing our founder, John Wesley? “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
The amended purpose of the special session shall be limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Commission on a Way Forward based on the Council of Bishops recommendation.
No plan is perfect. No petition is perfect. When global leaders come together, they must attain a high level of success. Yes, we will experience sharp edges, high tensions and tugs-of-war. Despite flaws and failures, the hard work ought to pay off. Then only would Jesus say of The United Methodist Church, “Well done, good and faithful (delegates and) servants, you have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25:21, NIV)
What got our church here now won’t get our church beyond February 2019. The church Jesus envisioned in the Gospels was not the church born on Pentecost. The church formed in 1968 is not the church of today. The church that ordained me in 1984 as a deacon and in 1986 as an elder is not the same today.
My ordination has remained intact. The missional contexts for putting my ordination into practicing ministry have dramatically and drastically changed. The church of today won’t be the same in 2019 or 2020 or 2024 or 2028. Missional and ministry contexts continue to vary, diversify, modulate and change.
The message of agape – self-giving love – is the same yesterday, today and forever. Once upon a time, I was offering the message of agape from an Indian/eastern cup. Today, I am offering it from an American, Midwestern and cheesy Wisconsin cup. Unlike many whom we hope to reach, embrace and invite into God’s kingdom, I am blessed with an unsinkable evangelical faith and strong personal theological beliefs and convictions. I am passionate about evangelism, outreach, church planting and intercultural ministries.
With my faith, theology and passion, I am preparing myself for the 2019 special General Conference, based on and oriented around the core values, well-articulated by the Commission on a Way Forward – mission with all, space for all and unity through diversity. Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God and broke the bread. It is not many fragments joining into one bread, but one bread, one body, becoming many fragments. Bread can only fulfill its function through fraction. Our church, like bread, must be broken in God’s hands if it is to serve and transform the world.
May the 864 fragmented pieces gather in St. Louis with fresh spirits, minds and visions to bake one-fresh-bread, one renewed church! As we read and reflect on Ephesians 4:13, may we experience a new type of unity – one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world. After the adjournment, may we commit to leave gratefully and joyfully, singing Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Christ, the Lord is risen today, alleluia! Love’s redeeming work is done, alleluia! Soar we now where Christ has led, alleluia!”
The Rev. Samuel “Sam” J. Royappa, a clergy delegate, is director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Conference.