Here are a few first impressions from the UMC Next gathering last week and implications as we move towards the election of delegates this week. I will assume that you have read the inspired key principles and heard about the two-fold strategy to “Stay, Resist, and Reform,” while engaging in “Negotiations for Dissolution” if this is deemed to be the most faithful option.
Impression 1. I felt the tension in my own heart between these two strategies. I was moved by pain caused by the actions of General Conference and empathized with calls for some form of separation. And then, I heard powerful statements from African Americans and women who have stayed and struggled for justice and inclusion for generations. To leave too quickly could dishonor those who have stayed and made such a difference by being prophets among us. I was moved, for example, by the story of how one Conference elected women to go to General Conference, knowing that these women would be turned away because “laymen” meant “male.” I am so glad that these women continued the struggle. Perhaps, they can serve as inspiration. Whether we ultimately schism or not, we need those committed to the cause and those willing to work together. There is strength in numbers.
Impression 2. We must find ways to model the church that we want to become. That means we must be intentional about inclusivity and honoring all voices at the table. In this light, I stand convicted as one who is responsible for scheduling our Uniting Dinner on Wednesday Night at the same time as the Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) dinner. My first response was that it was “unintentional,” motivated by wanting to meet before the elections on Wednesday night. It was Maxine Allen, a true prophet among us, who agreed that it was unintentional and pointed out that we need to be intentional if we are to live up to the values we claim. Yes, faithfulness to the vision given at UMC Next calls for much more intentionality.
Impression 3. I am thankful that our leadership group, first for Uniting Methodists and then for UMC Next, has been open about our participation. There were many at UMC Next who were reluctant to be open about their advocacy. In this regard, I think of a conversation I had with Lynn Kilbourne as we were planning a rally for the One Church Plan at Annual Conference last year (that seems so long ago). I expressed my thankfulness to be in a place, in terms of age and appointment, where I could be a vocal advocate without as much fear of consequences. I asked Lynn if she was sure about taking a public stance knowing that some heat would come. She confessed some concern, but then said, “It’s the right thing to do.” We need that kind of leadership as we work for a church that cultivates unity in love rather than uniformity by law and goes back to a biblical vision of making room for all, not just back to a time when discrimination was justified.
You are invited to join this holy work. As a step this week, please join us in electing a delegation that will represent the emerging vision that God is giving. If you want to be a part of a more organized effort, let me, or any involved, know. There is a plan. We need to work together, or we risk a delegation that wants to perfect the punitive/exclusionary plan with little influence for an alternative vision. For one more impression from the gathering, I no longer want to use the term “traditional plan” because I do not believe it honors the living tradition of the church. When it comes to honoring our tradition, we can do so much better.