Living prayers

In the closing hours of General Conference, the Judicial Council announcement came through. Plan UMC was “constitutionally unsalvageable.” On the large video screen that broadcast the session, a delegate held up a sign, “John 11:35” – Jesus wept.

For good or ill – most of the delegates believed the plan (or anyone of its three predecessors) was a move toward a new missional focus that went deeper than downsizing. It would have been a platform for change. But the platform collapsed.

Some speculated this felt like an historic moment for the denomination. They had a few hours to craft a new and hopeful way forward. And they did. It wasn’t as broad-sweeping, but it significantly cut the boards of directors at the General Church level. Money will be saved and those savings can be passed along to local churches, which will pay less in apportionments, having more to invest tin mission and ministry.

In was legislative drama. But as the final amens were sung – looking back, I wondered what had been accomplished. The General Conference did away with guaranteed appointments (a move pending a challenge to the Judicial Council); cut $6 million from its budget; but did not create a position of set-aside bishops, nor did it adopt the Call to Action plan for restructuring or Plan B. No changes were made to the churches stances on homosexuality.

There were several hundred of pieces of legislation passed, but I’m not certain they’ll significantly reverse the decline facing the denomination. In my mind, I keep replaying an awkward little vote held early in the session. There was a proposal to add language to the prelude of the Social Principles. It said, “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all. Neither belief nor practice can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

Simple. But many delegates voiced their opposition. They were firm in their conviction that a lack of belief and sinful living could indeed separate a person from God’s love. An amendment was made: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” — straight out of Romans 8. But the delegates voted, by only a margin of 53 to 47, percent to support this statement.

Of course, this vote was loaded with undercurrents about tolerance of homosexuality. A lot of things were. But it struck me that it might also be a vote most churches and most individuals might take each day as they began or ended their day. Do our beliefs and practices reflect God’s love? Are we living prayers, living witnesses, living texts to the world that God’s love is available, unconditional and abundant? Are we voting “yes,” to grace far beyond the bar of General Conference?

In a closing sermon, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, the new Council of Bishops president, reminded the delegates that church really exists “out there.” Our ingathering is essential. Strategy, structure, budget, and tending to and living out the connectional system that makes us United Methodists should never be discounted. But ultimately, it’s in the pulpits and pews of United Methodist churches where the cross and flame will transform people’s lives. It’s in those places where 11 million people across the globe gather to worship and serve and try their very best, each in their own unique way, to make disciples for the transformation of the world.

Sign up for our newsletter!

SUBSCRIBE

Latest News

General Church
Delegates attend opening worship at the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis in February. Given escalating conflict in the denomination over LGBTQ inclusion, two bishops are pushing a plan to create two or three self-governing church groups, with The United Methodist Church remaining as an umbrella organization. File photo by Kathleen Barry, UM News.

2 bishops offer plan for denomination’s future

To deal with schism-threatening conflict over homosexuality, Bishops Bard and Jones favor making The United Methodist Church an umbrella for self-governing church groups.
Theology and Education
The Rev. Laceye C. Warner is Associate Dean for Wesleyan Engagement and the Royce and Jane Reynolds Associate Professor of the Practice of Evangelism and Methodist Studies at Duke University Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina.  Photo by Les Todd.

John Wesley reminds us that grace is available to all

Seminary professor Laceye C. Warner writes that Wesley’s instructions to modern Methodists would be the same as Methodists of his day: Extend God’s love and grace to others.
Theology and Education
David F. Watson is Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Photo courtesy of United Theological Seminary.

Wesley would call modern Methodists to return to their roots

Wesley knew that the people called Methodists were themselves liable to spiritual slumber. Seminary professor David F. Watson thinks Wesley would direct today’s church back to the intentional practices of the Methodist societies.