As you read this, we are preparing to head to St. Louis for the called session of General Conference. General Conference is the worldwide legislative body of the United Methodist Church. There will be 864 delegates from around the world, requiring a host of translators to cover the need for simultaneous verbal translation of the proceedings into the various languages. (Roughly 42% of the delegates are from outside the United States.) We come from widely differing cultures and worldviews. As we gather, the question hanging over us is whether this called session will bring increased division or unity?
One of our well known authors and consultants, Gil Rendle, has observed that the UMC has become a collection of constituencies instead of a body unified in mission. He has written that renewal of the Methodist movement requires laying aside our individual agendas for the greater agenda of the mission of the UMC: “to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Bethany has some experience in this arena. We are located on the Williamson/Travis County line – aka the Republican/Democratic Party line. We consistently poll as 1/3 liberal, 1/3 moderate and 1/3 conservative. We are a large community which contains many smaller communities. We have no shortage of constituent groups within our congregation. That means that we have to be very clear about our mission: “to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world” and our purpose: “leading people to experience God’s love, know Jesus Christ and grow in His image.” We are intentional about our Wesleyan heritage and theology. We encourage our leadership to keep their eyes on our calling from Christ. We are committed to being a vital community of Christ-followers who are willing to honor each other by honoring Christ. Someone once commented to me about how Christocentric we are. I heard that as the highest of compliments for a part of the Body of Christ.
I do not know if the UMC, with its much greater diversity, can unite in mission. Once the voting is over and the dust settles, I will be bringing you a report about the outcome. But I do know that many of us in Bethany have already laid aside our agendas for the sake of the greater mission of Jesus Christ. We have lost our identities as individuals so that we might find our identity as Christ-followers. In a very real sense, we have been converted.
As we move into the future, I move in trust that God still holds our future. I move in confidence that all things are possible in Christ. I ask that you join with me in that trust and confidence. I also ask that you join with me in praying an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit that lifts us above our own understanding into a unity of mission and faith in Jesus Christ.