Christine Schneider describes her time at General Conference as some of the worst experiences in her life as a United Methodist.
“We must definitely learn to do things differently because what we’ve done there has brought us to, well, you all know to where,” said the veteran delegate about the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly.
The United Methodist Church has reached a point where it is facing a potential split over its longtime debate over LGBTQ inclusion — much of the most heated disputes taking place at General Conference. Simultaneously, the international denomination faces the ravages of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In this chaotic time, Schneider is among an informal group of General Conference delegates who see an opportunity to map a new vision for the denomination’s future.
The group, called “Out of Chaos … Creation,” held its second set of webinars Dec. 1 to share some of the international feedback it already has received on what that vision might look like.
The group, which includes delegates from all four continents where the church is present, held two nearly identical hourlong webinars at different times to reach more United Methodists around the globe.
“This effort is really an opportunity to talk in a different setting without legislation, without complicated rules, just an opportunity to meet as humans,” Schneider said during the first session. Schneider, who lives in Zurich, is a delegate from the Switzerland-France-North Africa Conference.
Because of the pandemic, General Conference — originally scheduled for May this year — is now postponed to Aug. 29-Sept. 7, 2021.
The group held its first set of webinars in July and invited United Methodists to use the delay to help cast a new vision. The group is not affiliated with any United Methodist advocacy organization, nor is it backing any particular piece of legislation.
The group is not trying to set up a new denomination, as the Liberation Methodist Connexion and Wesleyan Covenant Association are doing. In fact, group members all spoke with love for The United Methodist Church and hope that, with God’s help, the church can become better.
“I commit to be a church that invites and welcomes everybody at the Lord’s table with mutual respect, mutual love,” said the Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau during the first session. She is a delegate from the North Katanga Conference in Congo and an advocate for indigenous women.
During the Dec. 1 webinars, group members said their goal was to learn participants’ aspirations for the church, help them learn the aspirations of others and find ways to join in common purpose.
The group also is seeking responses to a survey — published in English, French and German — that asks United Methodists about their vision for the church in their contexts.
The “Out of Chaos” group plans to collect responses through Dec. 31 and use them in drafting a new vision statement. The group expects to complete the draft by the end of January and then present it for more public feedback.
“This will not be the final word,” Schneider said. “This is an ongoing process that will continually invite feedback.”
The Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, delegate from the Michigan Conference, shared some of the responses the group already has received. So far, Out of Chaos has received responses from eight General Conference delegations around the globe and 57 individual survey responses.
For example, a survey response from the Middle Philippines Conference aspires to “a more vital church, vital Christians, and the engagement in the community and the world for peace, justice and compassion.”
Other responses struck similar tones. One from the Texas Conference called for the church to be “open, welcoming, forgiving.”
A group of United Methodist youth in Tanzania and Tanganyika submitted a statement saying they want the church to be unifying, caring, capacity-building, sanctifying and one that “strengthens evangelism in the local church” and fosters “healthy interpersonal relationships.”
During the second session, one webinar participant asked if the effort is in any way related to the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, a mediated proposal submitted to General Conference that has support from various United Methodist groups.
The Rev. Jay Williams, a delegate from the New England Conference, advised that the world looks different from when the protocol was first developed in 2019.
“We don’t know what the 2021 General Conference is going to look like if it happens in person or virtually,” he said. “So, it seems to me that in the moment of transition in the church, we need to continue the visioning process.”
Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.
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