After writing two Monday Memos with questions I would ask if I was thinking of joining the GMC, that is the new Global Methodist Church, one of my friends wondered what questions I have for the PSUMC–Post-Separation United Methodist Church. So here goes…
- Will we seek a revival, a new birth?
We all know that the UMC, along with other denominations, has been in a steady numerical decline for several decades. Some suggest even since it was created by the merger of 1968. Richard Wilke’s probing book on the matter borrowed the title from the hymn which opens annual conference, “And Are We Yet Alive?” It was written in 1986–35 years ago!–and the same questions can be asked today. Out of this impending schism and the loss of some of the evangelical members of the family, will we seek a new vitality, a new passion, a new birth of the Wesleyan revival or will we simply continue to slowly slide into oblivion?
2. Will we refocus on what it means to be a United Methodist today?
Some of the folks who are planning to join the GMC seem to be “Metho-baptists” rather than Wesleyan Methodists. Here’s my favorite line from the Presbyterian pastor in my favorite movie “A River Runs Through It”–“A Methodist is nothing more than a Baptist who learned how to read.” We need to be more than that, but unfortunately, many United Methodists are not clear about what it means to be a Methodist Christian. Perhaps this time of shaking and shifting will force us to dig deeper into our history, theology and identity in order to clarify who we are today.
3. Which leads me to ask, “Will we proclaim the word of grace”?
The central theme of Wesleyan theology is Grace: Prevenient grace, justifying grace, sanctifying grace. The grace that goes before, the grace that makes us whole and the grace that makes us holy. Right now, I attend a Presbyterian Church and honestly, I don’t think most modern-day Presbyterians actually believe in TULIP, total depravity, limited atonement or double predestination. But we United Methodists have not been clear about the alternative, the message of grace available to all, grace which moves us toward what Wesley called Christian Perfection. In the face of a more authoritarian and judgemental expression of Methodism, will we proclaim a truly Wesleyan understanding of grace?
4. Do we still believe in “Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors”?
I know that motto is dated and somewhat out of fashion today, but I still believe it speaks about our Wesleyan identity which includes being a church which welcomes diversity and celebrates the breadth of Christian experience. Unlike the GMC, I don’t expect we will all be “like-minded”. I hope there will be room for evangelicals and progressives, southerners and northerners, reds and blues, gay and straight–oh my, there I said it. I hope we will make room for pastors who will perform same sex weddings and those who won’t. I hope we can allow for the regional diversity of a global church since what works in the USA or Northern Europe might not work in Africa or the Philippines. Globally, we probably need to become less connected in order to remain connected (See proposals from the “Christmas Covenant”.) In a deeply divided nation and world, I believe a church which boldly proclaims “open hearts, open minds, open doors” offers a welcoming alternative for many who are turned off by the rigidity and fundamentalism of other groups.
5. And there is more….
I hope we will keep the “trust clause”, the pattern of itinerant clergy appointed by the bishop after consultation, and apportionments which bind us together in shared mission. I hope we will make a renewed commitment to theological education and seminary training for ordained clergy including two orders of clergy–the Deacon and the Elder, and the balance between personal faith and social action. I hope we will always be “singing Methodists”, celebrating our faith in song. I hope the sacraments will take a more central place in our life together.
Whatever happens, I plan to be a post-separation United Methodist. In the words of the old camp meeting song, I expect I’ll be “A Methodist ’till I Die”.