Delegates map out vision for church future

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A group of General Conference delegates asked United Methodists from around the globe to help them envision a better church. 

With that feedback, the delegates now see that future church on the horizon and they’ve mapped out a way to get there.

The international group unveiled its vision map, “Out of Chaos, Creation: Imagining a Better Way of Being United Methodists,” on Feb. 19 in English, Spanish and French. The group also has plans to translate the 10-page document into Tagalog and German.

“We are committed to being the Church together, despite our differences (Ephesians 4:4),” the vision map says. “We each have a place at God’s table.”

The document addresses a denomination where many do not want to stay together. After decades of debate over the status of LGBTQ people, the coming General Conference faces multiple proposals to split along theological lines.

That legislation includes the much-endorsed Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, a mediated agreement under which a traditionalist coalition already plans to form a new denomination. A liberationist group has plans for a new denomination as well.

The vision map — produced by United Methodists on all four continents where the denomination is present — makes no mention of the protocol or the breakaway groups. However, the document does assert a stance on LGBTQ inclusion.

“We do not decide who sits at God’s table,” the document says. “Therefore, we repent of the harm done to LGBTQIA+ people by The United Methodist Church and wish to deepen conversation about human sexuality, beyond a singular focus on LGBTQIA+ persons.”

The document calls for The United Methodist Church to be inclusive in other ways as well. Specifically, the document calls for the denomination to be more global by decolonizing the denomination’s missional relationships and rejecting U.S.-centrism. The document also calls for the church to be anti-racist.

The writing team of the document predominantly came from central conferences — United Methodist regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.

In developing the vision map, the team took feedback from two sets of webinars in 2020, listening sessions as well as survey results.

The survey drew 102 respondents from all five U.S. jurisdictions and four central conferences, said the Rev. Cristine Carnate-Atrero, co-chair of the writing team and a pastor in the Philippines.

“The vision map is an image to describe the total or whole picture of the respondents’ laments, aspirations and visions,” said Carnate-Atrero, who goes by Tintin and is a reserve delegate from the West Middle Philippines Conference. 

“We hope that the wider church, especially fellow General Conference/central conference/jurisdictional delegates, would consider this vision map as a voice of the unmuted individuals from the different parts of the connection,” she added.

The “Out of Chaos, Creation” group got together as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of General Conference from May 2020 to Aug. 29-Sept. 7 this year in Minneapolis. Group members called the unexpected delay of the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly a “kairos moment” — from the Greek for an opportune time.

Their goal was to use the pause in business-as-usual to reflect on a church vision and draw more United Methodists into the conversation about the church’s future.

The group said it did not come together initially to support any specific legislative agenda. However, the vision map does offer support for two proposals coming before General Conference.

Specifically, the document encourages the church to study “Sent in Love: A United Methodist Understanding of Church,” a document proposed by the denomination’s Committee on Faith and Order that discusses what makes United Methodism distinctive.

The vision map also supports the passage of regionalization legislation — such as the Christmas Covenant and the Connectional Table’s proposal to make the U.S. a regional conference — “so that ministry can be developed contextually and so that the issues that divide within one region do not get inordinate weight in our global connection.”

In addition, the document supports the elimination of U.S. jurisdictions by 2028, a move that would require amendments to the denomination’s constitution.

“Once our vision was clear, we realized that some GC petitions do point the UMC in the direction we believe is desirable,” said Christine Schneider, the other co-chair of the writing team and a reserve delegate from the Switzerland-France-North Africa Conference.

More generally, Schneider said she hopes the document encourages “good table manners” whenever United Methodists gather. To that end, the document has some cues about how to behave at a shared table, including the reminder that “God is the host of the table.”

At the typical General Conference, delegations sit at separate tables, always divided by geography and often by language. Those not elected as delegates aren’t at the tables at all but at a noticeable distance to prevent interference in voting.

However, the delegates have a more open table in mind in writing about the church’s future — the Communion table that draws Christians together in faith in Christ.

That table should be a model for United Methodist interaction, said the Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau, another member of the writing team. She is a delegate from the North Katanga Conference in Congo, a United Methodist Communications board member and an advocate for indigenous women.

“Because the Eucharistic table welcomes everyone to negotiate, listen mutually, physically and with the heart, we can work together as children of God,” she said.

The Rev. Anne-Marie Detjen, the document's main writer and a delegate from Germany, said she also hopes the map can help provide a sense of direction. She likened the map to the GPS she uses whenever she travels by car.

“I turn on my GPS because it also helps me to better assess the way,” she said. “Our vision map can be understood in a similar way: It helps us to stay confident on the way, and whether we’re still on the right track.”

Hahn is assistant news editor 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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