United Methodist assembly urged to forget ‘I’ and become ‘we’

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United Methodists will forever be involved in unchristian actions toward one another if each person does not let go of concerns about “I” and make an effort to become “we.”

This was the premise of the General Conference Laity Address by Gloria Holt, president of the United Methodist Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders.

The April 28 message “One in Spirit, All in Ministry,” was derived from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Holt asked the 998 delegates from throughout the world if there is one body and one spirit, “What part of one don’t we understand?”

As some definitions of “one” mean joining together, uniting or forming a whole, Holt said, “It is still an action word implying to me, at least, that it takes some work to make something either become one or remain one.”

Holt said that church efforts often create divisiveness rather than oneness in the faith community and the world. “What is our problem?” she asked. “It is not about us. It is about God.”

She told the top legislative body of the United Methodist Church that until each individual is willing to let go of “me, myself and I” and make a concerted effort to become “we, ourselves and us,” church members will continue to be involved in “power struggles, selfish decision-making, and unchristian actions toward each other.”

The most critical and troubling concern about being one in spirit and all in ministry centers around the “apparent unwillingness” of laity and clergy “to be partners in ministry with one another––not senior partners and silent partners, but equal partners,” Holt said. While there is appropriate talk, working partnerships within the United Methodist Church are still lacking, she said.

“We state unequivocally that all baptized Christians are called to ministry, but for the most part it appears that we don’t practice what we preach,” she said. Partnerships are not created overnight and are built on trust, respect and a willingness to share with one another in a spirit of cooperation, she added.

“If clergy are singing their own song while the laity are dancing to their own beat, how in the world are we going to get in sync with one another?” she asked. “Unless we do, the church will not be creating the music for which God gave us the notes.”

Holt told an amusing story of her grandson who stated that he played on Jesus’ baseball team. She encouraged delegates to also remember their team membership and that regardless of where they are in the world, “it takes all of God’s people to do all of God’s work.” She noted that if United Methodists could get the “one” thing down, then all can be in ministry and working together to fulfill the ministry of the church.

In describing church work, Holt said it involves a lot of busy stuff; it wears you out physically, mentally and sometimes spiritually, and “keeping things as they always have been becomes our number one priority.”

But, she said, doing the work of the church involves reaching out and is more fulfilling because it involves making disciples and leaving comfort zones to share Christ’s love in tangible ways. “When we are doing the work of the church, we are being the church. Ministry becomes our number one concern; making disciples our number one priority. We are joined one in spirit, all in ministry.”

Holt reflected on how she learned about doing the work of the church eight years ago when she helped plant a new church. She said she was stuck in a “it-just-doesn’t-sound very-United-Methodist” mode until she remembered that John Wesley focused the Methodist movement on people who had been neglected by the church and society. That insight helped her gain a new mindset about worship styles and ways to meet the needs of young adults.

She encouraged delegates to return to their home congregations, look around and count the number of children, youth and young adults there.

“If those age groups are not there (and in most churches they are not), then it’s a given that your church is not meeting their needs.” She urged the international assembly to move away from the “we-have-to-do-things-the-way-we’ve-always-done-them-or-people-will-leave-the-church” mentality and realize that the absence of youth and young adults could be because the congregation is not willing to change patterns to ways that welcome them.

“How can we be one in the spirit if we are not following the guidance of the spirit?” she asked. “How can we be all in ministry if we are not bringing people to Christ, growing people in Christ and sending for Christ?”

Holt reminded the delegates of all of the things that can be done with a hand and reminded them that God also gave them the ability to change hands to perform necessary tasks.

“Our God is a God of change. God gave us the church that must be ever-changing to meet the needs of today’s world,” she said. “God expects us to have an innovative and ever-changing ministry based on God’s unchanging word.”

Besides serving as president of the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders, Holt is also the North Alabama Conference lay leader and president of the Southeastern Jurisdiction  Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders. She is a founding member of ClearBranch United Methodist Church, in Trussville, Ala., one of the denomination’s fastest-growing new churches.

Three women and three men, chosen to represent the denomination’s diversity, delivered the first laity address at the 1980 General Conference. A competition has been held every four years since then for a layperson to make the speech.

The Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders invited annual conference lay leaders from around the world to submit written manuscripts, which were judged on their own merit and without the names of the authors attached. Holt’s manuscript was selected for the 2004 assembly.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service correspondent.

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