If you, like almost every committed United Methodist, are wondering “What’s Next for the United Methodist Church?”, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the very good company of an estimated 26,000 compatibilist churches and around 6,000 incompatabilist United Methodist Churches in the US, according to Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Leewood Kansas, the largest United Methodist congregation in the United States.
In his April 26 blog post, Hamilton reiterates this question that is permeating our denomination and offers the sense of hope he says he now feels and has felt in the presence of others who have gathered to discuss the particulars of this complex question.
Compatabilists, you may remember are those United Methodists among us who believe, “I can be in a church where others disagree with me and are allowed to do something different than what I believe is right regarding same-sex marriage.” And, while compatabilists may lean toward either traditionalist or progressive views, they believe that there is room for disagreement on how people read and interpret scripture regarding same-sex marriage.
Hamilton said in an earlier article that on a national scope, 20 percent of compatabilists tend to be conservative, 15 percent tend to be progressive, and 65 percent of United Methodist Churches in America occupy what he calls “the broad center.”
To that end, Hamilton has organized two six-hour conversations, one in Dallas and one in Atlanta, in which a total of 70 people, including our own Dr. Tim Bruster, participated in discussions about possible paths forward for the United Methodist Church if the Traditionalist Plan is retained at the next General Conference.
“The work that’s going on now,” explains Dr. Bruster, “is really around what new expression of Methodism will there be? What’s that going to look like?” Dr. Bruster says he believes that the best outcome from current conversations would be to have legislation going to General Conference 2020 that would pave the way for new expressions of Methodism. “I do think there’s reason for hope,” he adds, “because we can’t go into 2020 with the attitude of ‘business as usual’.”
Hamilton says that these two six-hour meetings ended with agreement to convene a much larger conversation about what’s next for the UMC to help shape and create the next Methodism — a Methodism defined by Wesleyan theology, a missional focus, evangelism and social justice, and being a church that fully welcomes LGBTQ persons and their families and friends in the life of the church.
“There was some genuine excitement about the possibility of reinventing United Methodism for the 21st century,” Hamilton explains in his blog. This solution remains highly focused on retaining the Doctrinal Standards, the Theological Task and the Social Principles (while removing the incompatibility language), holding together the evangelical and social gospel, the Wesleyan emphasis on grace and sanctification, and a passionate pursuit of both evangelism and social justice.
“There was also excitement on the part of the bishops and others to reduce the rules of the Discipline and, instead, to place the primary emphasis of the Discipline on supporting and encouraging mission and ministry.”
Dr. Bruster notes that this whole situation also gives United Methodist leadership a chance to deal with some of our structural challenges. “We’re existing as a denomination in the 21st century with a structure that’s really 19th century,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to be leaner and to perhaps have a flatter organization.”
With this “birth of something new,” Dr. Bruster says he’s hopeful that there will be many ways in which Methodists could continue to work together. “We already work with a lot of Methodist bodies in the world Methodist Council,” he says, “and we can work together on relief work and Westpath could still serve both bodies with retirement, insurance, and pension plans. Saying that there may even be many other ways that Methodists could work together, Dr. Bruster adds, “I find that hopeful.”
Hamilton echoes this hope: “I was asked today about the spirit in the room in both Dallas and Atlanta and in the conversations since. My answer: Hopeful. There was genuine excitement about what could be next for the UMC. Looking back on GC 2019, I can’t help but think of the surprising ways that God works, including through our human conflicts. It may be that the only thing that could get us unstuck, was what happened at the 2019 General Conference.”
The next conversation will be held at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection May 20 – 22, 2019. Hamilton has invited ten people (a careful combination of compatibilist clergy and laity) from each of the 54 United States annual conferences, along with the active US bishops who are able to attend, as well as the general secretaries of the church to participate. Dr. Bruster will be part of that meeting.
“Participants will join in round table discussions with a diverse group of other denominational leaders, both laity and clergy, praying, discussing, and discerning the answer to the question, “What is next for the UMC?” Hamilton explains. “Each participant is expected to return to their annual conference to organize conversations and support there.”
And meanwhile, what’s happening here locally at First Church Fort Worth? “We’re continuing to do what we do, engaging in the same ministries, programs, and worship experiences as we were before,” Dr. Bruster says. “We continue to be committed to Loving God, Serving People, and Transforming Lives. We continue to pursue the goals we identified in the Focus First Process:
- Facilities that serve our mission.
- Everyone in a life-giving group.
- The spiritual home for youth in Fort Worth.
- A Church as diverse as the Kingdom of God.
“We are a church of compatabilists,” sayd Dr. Bruster. “We have experienced for generations being part of a ‘big tent’ congregation — a community that knows how to be together even with our disagreements and to love one another and to serve together.”
Organization: The Church as Connection (from umc.org)
Terms: General Conference, Jurisdictional Conferences, Central Conferences, Annual Conferences, Districts, Charge Conferences and Local Churches
United Methodist leaders often speak of the denomination as “the connection.” This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning.
The United Methodist structure and organization began as a means of accomplishing the mission of spreading scriptural holiness. Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” a network of classes, societies, and annual conferences.
Today, our denomination continues to be organized in a “connectional” system, which “enables us to carry out our mission in unity and strength” (Book of Discipline, ¶ 701). Every local church is linked to an interconnected network of organizations that join together in mission and ministry, allowing us to accomplish far more than any one local church or person could alone.
Within the connectional structure of The United Methodist Church, conferences provide the primary groupings of people and churches for discernment and decision-making. Wesley described Christian conferencing as a spiritual discipline through which God’s grace may be revealed. At every level of the connection, church leaders and members come together in conversation, or conferencing, to discuss important issues and discover God’s will for the church. The word, conference, thus refers to both the assembly and organization of people as well as the process of discerning God’s call together.
As the primary legislative body, General Conference is the only entity with the authority to speak on behalf of the entire United Methodist Church. The General Conference meets every four years to consider the business and mission of the church. An equal number of lay and clergy delegates are elected from United Methodist conferences around the world to decide matters of policy and procedure for the denomination. Learn more.
There are five geographic jurisdictions, or regions, in the United States, which are comprised of eight to 15 annual conferences each. Learn more.
In Africa, Europe and the Philippines, there are seven geographical regions, called central conferences, each of which is comprised of annual conferences and divided into several episcopal areas. Learn more.
The annual conference is a geographical entity, an organizational body (made up of elected lay and clergy members), and a yearly meeting. It is the fundamental body of the church (Book of Discipline, ¶ 11). Learn more.
Each local church is part of a district, which is an administrative grouping of churches in a geographic area. Learn more.
Charge Conferences and Local Churches
As the visible presence of the body of Christ, the local church is the place where members grow in faith and discipleship, putting their faith into action through ministry in the world. Learn more.Read on UMC.org
Constitutional Structure (from umc.org)
Terms: General Conference, Council of Bishops, Judicial Council
The United Methodist Church does not have a central headquarters or a single executive leader. Duties are divided among bodies that include the General Conference, the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council. Each of these entities is required by our Constitution, a foundational document, to be part of our structure, and plays a significant role in the life of the church.
The General Conference, the primary legislative body of The United Methodist Church, is the only body that speaks officially for the church. Meeting once every four years to determine legislation affecting connectional matters, it is composed of no fewer than 600 and no more than 1,000 delegates.
Working within the boundaries of the Church Constitution and General Rules, the General Conference defines and fixes the conditions, privileges and duties of church membership; the powers and duties of elders, deacons, diaconal ministers and local pastors; and the powers and duties of annual conferences, missionary conferences, charge conferences and congregational meetings. It authorizes the organization, promotion and administrative work of the church. The General Conference also defines the powers and duties of the episcopacy, authorizes the official hymnal and book of worship, provides a judicial system and procedures, initiates and directs all connectional enterprises of the church and enacts other legislation for the operation of the church. Learn more.
Council of Bishops
The Council of Bishops gives general oversight of the ministry and mission of the church and spiritual leadership to the entire church connection. Composed of all active and retired bishops, the council meets as a group at least once a year.
Bishops are elected by Jurisdictional Conferences and assigned to a particular area, made up of one or more annual conferences. Each bishop provides oversight of the ministry and mission of annual conferences in his or her area and appoints all clergy to their places of service.
Through its Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, the council builds and maintains ties with other Christian denominations as well as other faith groups. Learn more.
As the denomination’s highest judicial body or “court,” the Judicial Council’s nine members, made up of laity and clergy, are elected by the General Conference and normally meet twice a year to consider whether actions of the various church bodies adhere to the constitution and follow the rules outlined in the Book of Discipline.
Their cases are generally referred to them by action of the Council of Bishops, the annual conferences or the General Conference. According to the Constitution, decisions of the Judicial Council are final (Paragraph 57, Article III). Learn more.Read on UMC.org