Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.
Now that it is the middle part of June, we can look back at the reports of the various annual conferences that bloggers have posted and reflect upon them.
I think the one report that impressed me the most was the one that stated the conference was over and done in two days. Oh, how I wish that the business of all churches could be done in such a short time.
One note that saddened me was the report that an annual conference decided to end its support of campus/college ministries. What was more frightening was the fact that the decision was actually made several months before annual conference and rushed through the annual conference process without much of a debate. This particular conference did decide to transfer part of the money that had been budgeted for campus ministries to some sort of nebulous organization that would take on the role of campus ministry in its jurisdiction. It struck me as I read that as some sort of bureaucratic creation that would not work. Coupled with this report was a report from another conference that they were having second thoughts about a similar decision a year ago.
It seemed as if a number of conferences had voting problems. One indicated that they had more candidates than ballot spots (why can’t we have that problem at local conferences?). There were problems completing the ballots in another conference. I don’t think that voter fraud will ever be an issue in annual conference voting but it seemed like the instructions should have been very clear or some instruction should have been provided
There was also a mention of the problem of getting young people to participate in the work of the annual conference. In this case, my reading of the report indicated that there were young people who wanted to be involved but were prevented from doing so. That is perhaps a sad commentary on the nature of the church today, when people want to be involved and are prevented from doing so by those who have been in position for, sometimes, too many years.
There were probably other reports that I haven’t seen. It should also be noted that I did not go to my own annual conference this year nor have I ever been to one. In part, my regular job prevents me from taking off for four days at the end of the academic year. Besides, to the best of my knowledge, I have never been considered for the position of “Lay Member to Annual Conference.” And though I have served as a lay minister for two churches in this annual conference, I could not represent those churches because of my lay status (plus the problems already mentioned).
I believe that my annual conference took action to remove a church from its “alive and kicking” list. The congregation had made the decision a year ago but the conference tabled any action until this year. I noted as passed this particular church location a couple of days ago that the building is being used by a more Pentecostal oriented church.
With General Conference a little less than one year away, the tone of the reports, the rumblings that I have read in other posts and my own feelings about the direction of the church lead me to some disturbing thoughts and concerns. First, in terms of membership, the United Methodist denomination is slowly dying. Each year it seems that the membership numbers are lower than the year before.
This is not a membership loss due only to death; it is a loss of younger members dissatisfied with the direction of the church and its inability to articulate what the mission of the church is and should be.
The denomination is becoming more mature. And with this maturity comes hesitancy. The denomination is unwilling to take initiatives that would change the direction in which it is headed. I think this is because there is a fear of failure that comes with hesitancy. Failure is always a possibility with new initiatives and you have to be prepared for failure. It isn’t failure that dooms an initiative; it is fear of failure. And it seems to me that the denomination is more afraid of failure than it is not trying.
I cannot help but think that the denomination is eating its seed corn. Seed corn is the corn you save for planting, not for consumption. When you start eating your seed corn, you begin taking away the future for the sake of the present.
There is, I believe, an attitude in the denomination today that is like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading. The denomination has become far too comfortable in its own righteousness and it is forgetting to do the things that are the heart and soul of Christianity.
It was the unnamed prostitute that washed Jesus’ feet, not Simon. But it was Simon’s responsibility and his own self-righteousness that stopped him from doing so. From the discussion between Jesus and Simon, you get the feeling that he (Simon) would not have allowed this women into the room. It is also disturbing to me that one of topics that had dominated General Conference for the past eight years and likely will take up a better part of next year’s General Conference will be who may be a part of the denomination. Why is it that Jesus welcomed all who sought Him but we feel that there are individuals who should be barred from our churches?
The church’s focus on the bottom line is, in my opinion, much like Ahab’s coveting the garden in today’s Old Testament reading. To the best of my knowledge, the denomination has done nothing illegal or unethical, as did Ahab, but it seems to me that it seeks non-church methods to achieve its goals. As long as the church focuses on the bottom line of dollars and membership numbers, it will be like the people of Israel and their leaders in the Old Testament times where materialism dominated and prevented them from seeing the Word of God in action.
The denomination must make a decision, individually and collectively. Will it be like Paul before Damascus, when he was Saul and devoted to carrying out the law? Or will it be like Paul after Damascus, saved by the Grace of God and devoted to bringing the Word, not the law, to the world. Will the denomination remember what it was that drove John Wesley to seek reformation of his church but led to the establishment of this denomination?
We are faced with a great challenge in our denomination. We are using our resources, our “seed corn”, to keep the present church alive. In doing so, we will not have a church in the future. It is time that we plant our seed corn so that we can prepare for the future that Christ promised us. To do otherwise should be unthinkable.