UMC Next

These are my general observations.

Yesterday was a long day of deliberations, prayer, and listening.   We are collaborating at tables and technology. Our tables represent people from all over the US church.  After two days together, I count my tablemates as friends from whom I gained much insight. I was reminded how the UMC churches I have served and the pastors I know usually seek to: serve those in need, lean towards grace, practise kindness, think about faith, and honor each other’s voices.  The seven leaders at my table came with unique stories and understandings but each represented the kind of good people anyone would enjoy serving with. Belmont is not alone, there are thousands of leaders from all over the county deeply concerned about the actions of the General Conference 2019.  

As harm was done at general conference 2019, there is a cost to binding up the wounds, repairing the damage, and building something new. No matter our path forward we know that for a season:

  • Local churches will lose members

  • There will be a lot of added work to do, beyond the normative workload of a church.

  • It will take time. Individual churches may break away, but any denominational divorce and the planting of a new church will likely not come until 2024.

  • It is one task to leave the denomination and another task to build a new theological home.  

  • History tells us to expect a good deal of heartache and legal challenges.       

  • We have long-standing systemic racism and other justice issues to address.

There are three models of change.

  1. Individual churches disaffiliation with the denomination (taking the “gracious” exit) and then perhaps coming together to form a new body.

  2. Seeking to work with conservatives and other voices to negotiate a gracious denominational division.  One of my new friends pointed out “there are many voices besides the WCA, IRD,Good News & RMN that need to at the negotiating table.” Indeed, in a denominational split there are churches and annual conferences split right down the middle.    

  3. Staying within the denomination, building our coalition, while resisting until change comes. The belief being that the center is mobilized and ready to engage. The seeds of legalism

In some ways, theses three basic trajectories do not exclude the other. There are other models as well, such as entire annual conferences withdrawing, that may be ways to bring about change.   

As I think about Belmont’s pathway, I think about my children.  Both boys live in college cities that lack a reconciling UMC church. We have lived in Winchester, Springfield, Tullahoma and Nashville. When I joined the Methodist church some 30 years ago, I was in  a very different place, but here I found grace, community, social justice and the theological tools to understand the Bible beyond proof-texting. You might have grandchildren in Benton Ky, Crossville TN, or Dothan Alabama.  I hope Belmont’s will do the hard work of growing God’s welcoming garden, not just on our corner of the 21st avenue and in our city. No let us help plant a fully inclusion church across the southeast and out into our world. We believe we are standing on the right side of  history, reason, scripture, community and change. Let us pick up our tools and build something beautiful together. May our movement be welcoming, winsome and wise; as we practise being the kind of church, we long to belong to.

Grace and Love
Paul    

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