Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Global Denomination = "Global Discipline"?

I was invited to attend the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Board of Ordained Ministry Mid Quadrennial Event in Denver, CO last week.  Or to put it in acronym
form, GBHEM's BOM Mid Quad Event. (my brain hurts after writing that statement because of all the UMC Polity involved)  It was interesting, most of the time, and I felt like I was the little kid invited to the adult table at Thanksgiving.

I am the Chair of the Call and Vocation Team for our conference and I fulfill the role of 'recruitment' of young clergy.   I don't serve on the BOM, nor have I ever, so it was a little weird hearing the insider talk and learning the relationship the people who attended from my conference have with the board and conference.  Weird in that I had to learn the 'language.'

The last session was on Friday and it stood out to me as one of the more interesting sessions of the event.  In this session there was discussion from a panel of people working on formulating a Global Discipline.  This proposal will come up at General Conference 2016 (GC).  Here is my basic understanding of the work this panel was doing.  They were tasked at another GC to see if a Global Discipline could be formulated.  They were to go through the current Book of Discipline and boil it down to the basic essentials which makes the United Methodist Church the United Methodist Church.  The point of a Global Discipline would mean that the essentials of what makes a UM church can be held up around the world.  Yet how the local churches/regions then are ruled, governed and so forth are left up to those areas.

Here is a quick example.  The Trust Clause is essential the UMC in America because the denomination holds the deeds to all property and makes us, or forces us to be connected.  Yet not all countries allow a denomination to 'own' property.  So how does a UM Church exist in a European country that doesn't allow it to own property?  Clergy educational requirements are another example.  How can we hold other clergy to the same educational requirements as we do for US clergy when they may not have access to that type of education?  Do we stop ordaining people in Africa or parts of Asia because they don't hold a Batchelor's degree and Masters of Divinity because the nearest place to get that type of education is a continent away?

These are quick illustrations of the problem that is uniquely United Methodist.  Something I found truly inspiring is this statement, "The United Methodist Church is the only denomination attempting to make a global church with democratic polity."  No other denomination in world is attempting to do this.  Sure the Roman Catholics have a global denomination but it isn't run democratically.  Other denominations may run their synod, conference, or convention in a democratic fashion but they aren't global.  They are truly only regional and may only have churches in one hemisphere of the world.

The UMC is truly a global denomination that is trying to figure out how to order, run, and grow that denomination in a global society.  Our current Book of Discipline is centered on how to run the UMC in the US.  The polity of District Superintendents and the local churches are focused how we do things in America.  The idea of a Global Discipline would free up local churches in the central conference to figure out how to be the best UMC in their part of the world.

One concern our table had (during our discussions) is that this would seem like a ploy from the liberal movements to get rid of the African vote at General Conference and push more inclusive stance on homosexuality within the America's UMC.  This cannot be further from the truth.  The idea of a Global Discipline has come from the central conference, those churches outside the US.  They want more freedom to in order to organize their local churches with what makes sense for their part of the world.

Now there was no discussion on how parts of the homosexuality debate would fall within the Global Discipline, such as the ordination or marring of homosexuals.  I guarantee this will come up at GC2016.

My personal reflection on the matter is that it just makes sense.  For us in the US (who yes financially support a dramatic chunk of the central conference) to dictate how the rest of the world should govern the local churches seems a lot like colonialism.  It makes sense to have one Discipline that states this is what it means to be United Methodist as a standard for all UMC and call it a Global Discipline.  It also makes sense that how the governing of the church, the local polity, then be left to decided by that area of the world.

The more you think about it the more questions come up, I know.  What are your thoughts?  Could a Global Discipline work?  Then there would be regional disciplines; Volume 2 Disciplines, that would dictate the local/regional/national polity involved, would that work?

The bottom line is we are attempting to do something that is not currently nor ever been done before.  We are bridging, building, and growing a global denomination run by democratic polity.  We are unique and we should take pride in this fact.  We should also recognize that if we want to succeed at this task, then it will take changes to our sacred Book of Discipline.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Will History Repeat?

With all the talk of schism from those on one side of the church and talk of schism from those on the other side of the church brought up a deep memory from my church history class.  I don’t know why it because my current church has been on this lot of land for 111 years and was founded as a Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  This congregation was founded in a denomination started as a result of the first schism in American Methodism. 

There is great article on Wofford College’s website that was written by Phillip Stone in 2013.  It appeared in the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate in February of that year.  In it he says the following,
“For nearly 100 years, the Methodist Episcopal Church was divided into northern and southern wings.  Sixteen years before the southern states seceded, the southern Annual Conferences withdrew from the denomination and formed the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.” 
Click here to read the whole article and I hope you do.  It is a good reminder of our past, my church’s past, my conference’s past.  I have only served MEC, South congregations during my ministry in the Western North Carolina Conference.  What is interesting is that I have been the only one that has really noticed our history.  The laity seem to not remember nor really care.  I don’t write that as flippant, but as a pastor that piece of history is more important to me then those in the pews. 

I find it important because it is our past and when we forget our past sometimes it becomes our present.  The past will rear its ugly head again if we are not careful.  The idea of schism seems to be tossed out like candy at a parade, not really caring where it lands.  There are people who are passionate about it.  There are brothers and sisters within my own conference that are in the 80 clergy/theologians who are pushing for it.  I am sure there are others on the other side that would love for it to happen as well.  It is a touchy, passionate subject, which is why I went back to 1844.

I would say that in hindsight, we understand now 170 later that the south got it wrong.  Slavery is wrong.  Treating another human being like property is not seeing them as a child of God.  However, I have no clue how I would have felt   Today I am not living in a society where there is an open slave trade and slaves are part of everyday life.  My current culture doesn’t match the one that was here on these farmlands of North Carolina 170 years ago.  So honestly, I don’t know where I would stand if I had a vote in 1844.  I wish I could but I can’t place myself in the midst of that mindset enough to know if I would stay in the south as an MEC, South pastor or if I would go north of the Mason Dixon Line to seek an appointment among the MEC.
about it 170 years ago doing ministry in the Old North State.

In Frederick Norwood’s The Story of American Methodism, he writes,
“When this long general conference [1844 GC which lasted 6 weeks, the longest in American Methodist history] finally adjourned on June 11, the church was not yet separate, but provision had been made for lawful separation if the South should so decide.  There was little doubt of that decision.  The process of implementing the separation plan was filled with frustration, misunderstanding, and ill feeling.  The wounds, instead of healing, were left to fester.  They produced deep scars which took a hundred years to heal and have not yet disappeared.  All too accurately, the experience of the church foreshadowed what was about to happen to the nation.”
The part that hurts is “the wounds, instead of healing, were left to fester.”  My gut tells me history will repeat itself if we are not careful, prayerful, and willing to do the hard work of understanding each other. 

James Howell said it well in his blog post I referenced in my last post…
“God wants us to be holy.  God wants us to embody the Scriptures.  And holiness in those Scriptures tells me we keep our promises, and love.  I want to be right on every issue.  But love and personal commitments trump in over being right more than we’re willing to admit.  I wonder if that’s the holiness test before us today.”
100 years from now as some scholar is writing a complete history of Methodism in America, I wonder what they will write about the this time and place. The time and place I have a vote, I have a voice, and where I do understand the culture.  Will we listen to each other, respect one another, and love one another?  Will we come out of this issue a stronger church more ready to make disciples for Christ?  Will we have transformed anything within our world?

  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wise Words

There is a lot of gossip about the United Methodist Church splitting, breaking up, divorcing, schism, what ever you want to call it.  There have been harsh words on all sides and those who agree and disagree.  In other words...it has been church.  As General Conference 2016 approaches and we are only a year away from voting for those who will represent us there, I am sure the rhetoric will only continue to rise and become louder.

In the midst of these conversations I have been wondering how best to express my feelings.  Low and behold, James Howell did it for me.  Please read his blog post from Monday.  We are a denomination that holds down the extreme middle.  James read my heart and wrote it down.  This tells me my feelings are shared by others.

What I found refreshing is that I am not alone.  My prayer is that the conversation will continue, prayer will continue, holy conferencing will continue and may God's grace be felt and expressed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hello this is church...

I just hung up the phone with the second telemarketer of the day...I've been in the office for two and a half hours now.  9 times out of 10 this is why the church office phone rings.  Someone has something that will make my congregation grow deeper in their relationship with God.   My youth group can now understand how to connect with God more fully.  My staff's cell phone plan can lower it's cost if I switch.

When I was dreaming about ministry sitting behind a desk in seminary (yes, seminary students do that), I never realized how much business is crammed into ministry.  You have to squint a little, tilt your head to the left and push that right eyelid closed almost and stare at it, but if you look close you can see business all over ministry.  It shows up in all dollar signs.  As I hung up the phone with a person wanting to sell the newest Youth Ministry Product by informing him we don't have a "youth pastor", I wondered if it was always like this?

In the 1950s did church's get phone calls from companies offering the newest Bible Study?  Were they getting offers to bring the best new speaker to their church for a revival?  It probably wasn't exactly the same, but I am sure it was there.  Today it is all up in your face and I have learned to sound bored and unapproachable as I answer the phone.

The truth is ever since people have been worshiping, there is someone out there trying to make money off of it.  The motives haven't changed only the avenues they travel on.  I guess it is just something they don't tell you about in seminary.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Signs of Revitalization: The Nursery

I have been absent from writing for a while because I have been in the midst of change.  I have been at this present appointment for almost two years and the amount of change that we have been through is incredible.  It has been overwhelming at times, in both good and bad ways.  I have been on the brink of heartache and ecstasy all in the same day.  I have taken some time to sit back today and take a look at what all has happened and I am truly overwhelmed. 

Let me share one story.  This past Sunday we had a family of three visit our worship service.  They arrived about 10 minutes early with their two year old boy.  When they arrived they sat on the back row and asked one of the people sitting near them if we had a nursery.  They said yes and one of our youth volunteered to show them where it was.

She walked them to the nursery which is the first door you see when you walk into our education building.  When they walked in they found freshly painted walls, new blinds, a clean place full of toys and all visible through the window in the door.  This use to be a Sunday School Classroom made up our oldest adults.  It use to be filled with missed matched chairs and junk.  It was a dumping ground for old computers, files, and simply junk.

The old nursery was located in the back corner of the first floor of the education building.  It was a small space and the three regular children made it feel crowded.  When this was made known to the congregation, that our nursery was crowed, the older adult Sunday School volunteered to let their Sunday School classroom be the new nursery.  Over the course of a year we have transformed it and there is still some finishing touches that need to be done. 

Now back to the family that visited.  They let their two year old go back with our nursery worker after the children’s moment with the other children who usually go back there.  A background checked volunteer watched them for the rest of the service and when they came back out for communion he was all smiles and happy to join his parents again. 

I am not sure if this family will join us again.  But I do know we did everything we could to make them feel welcomed.   They were greeted with smiles and open arms.  They felt comfortable enough to leave their child in a nice nursery with caring and warm volunteers. 


It seemed small in the moment but as I have reflected on this these past two days I have been in awe of what we as a congregation have been able to accomplish.  We have made a turn in the life of the church and God’s grace and love has led us through.  God is doing amazing things in the life of this congregation and I am simply blessed to be a part of it.