I don’t know about you but lately, I have heard more and more about various factions within the United Methodist Church that are making plans to leave the denomination and start something new. But I have heard little about a vision for those who remain in the United Methodist Church. I’ve wondered if that was because people were waiting for the actual separation and then begin to shape the remaining UMC into something new? Or are folks just too tired right now to give much energy to this because there are other pressing irons in the fire? Or have I just missed the narratives and the work being done because I’ve had a lot going on personally in my life the past few months? Here’s what I have discovered.
The Western North Carolina Conference has received a new Bishop in the last month, Bishop Ken Carter. His plate is full as he is serving both the WNCC and the Florida Conference for the next year so hold him in your prayers that when he wakes up each morning he knows where he is and what that day holds in store for him as he shepherds many people! One of the phrases I have heard Bishop Carter use repeatedly is the “Continuing United Methodist Church”. When I asked Bishop Carter my above questions he shared with the Cabinet a document called A Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church. I invite you to check out this document created by several Bishops of the UMC including our own Bishop Carter this past spring.
A few of the highlights of this document include this reminder of some of our core essentials:“We are a holy communion of different races, ethnicities, cultures, and perspectives united by the Holy Spirit, driven by the mission of Christ, and bearing the good news of an unmerited grace that changes lives and transforms communities.”
and“…we must be one people, rooted in scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love and united in the essentials.”
And then my favorite part from our Communion liturgy:
Make us one with Christ—this is faithfulness.
Make us one with each other—this is unity.
Make us one in ministry to all the world—this is fruitfulness.
While it was refreshing to hear a picture painted reminding me who the Church could and should be post our denominational General Conference that will most likely introduce some kind of (anticipated to be amicable) separation, I realized something very important. The Continuing United Methodist Church is not going to magically change into some new, unrecognizable denomination so foreign to those of us that choose to remain United Methodist that we don’t recognize our own faith practice. Nor will it be exactly like it is at this given moment. There will be some changes that those who choose to remain will experience as liberating to finally be the inclusive and welcoming church that they have longed to be. But for many of our churches, they will experience the same invitation to continue being the instrument of God’s grace in this world and in their communities, experiencing and sharing the love of Christ with others.
The other thing I have come to realize is that the true picture of the unfolding dynamics within our denomination is not going to be a binary choice, although some will want to paint it that way. The closest thing to a binary choice I can observe is deciding whether an individual or a church is “compatible” or not. What I mean by that is the Continuing United Methodist Church will continue to be a place where folks on various places of the theological continuum can find a home. If you can be at peace with other persons in the denomination being more progressive OR more conservative than you than you will be able to find a home. If you can be at peace with the fact that while you or your church will not be asked to do anything you are not comfortable doing, but a sister church 15 miles down the road may choose differently than you but you can respect each other’s choices, then there will be a place for you in the Continuing United Methodist Church.
If you want to explore this further The Connectional Table’s online “Tuesdays at the Table” will be at 11 a.m. U.S. Eastern Standard Time Oct. 5-Dec. 21. The 20- to 30-minute conversations will deal with such topics as the Wesleyan understanding of grace, the Bible’s role in United Methodists’ lives and the church’s connection around the globe. A possible resource for you and each session is recorded so you can peruse the archive.
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers and what I have said here are my holy incomplete thoughts only. What I do hope to do is inspire others to start talking about what the Continuing United Methodist Church will look like so it’s not a one sided conversation for us United Methodists. To talk about the power of churches of various sizes and settings and perspectives working together to further God’s Kingdom here in this part of Western North Carolina. To get excited about the Good News of grace and transformation and love of others that a maturing relationship with Jesus inspires. To be inspired by the continued study of the Scriptures and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives like John Wesley preached about 200 years ago. And to offer comfort that in spite of how nerve-racking the times we are living in can be, God is bigger than all of this and God is fully and Holy present in the Continuing United Methodist Church. God longs for all who want to be a part of continuing the Kingdom work we have begun to take a deep breath, and trust that in spite of these unprecedented hurdles that are tripping ALL of us up in our denomination – to patiently wait on the Lord. I’m not particularly good with patience, but I’m working on it. But I believe something new and good is coming for all of us – it’s just a matter of when. Not if. But when.
Grace and Peace,