UMC Directions: Beyond the Horizon

In late September I participated with 2,500 United Methodists from around the United States in the Leadership Institute at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City.  We met to bear witness to who we are as a denomination and to dream about the kind of church we want to be.  Along the way we took time to explore what may lie ahead for The United Methodist Church.

We began with reflections from African Americans and women on the ways in which our history contains both stories of justice and strides toward equality and at the same time shameful injustices in our past and not just in our past.  Junius Dotson, the head of Discipleship Ministries, quoted William Faulkner, “The past isn’t dead and buried, in fact it isn’t even past.”  We also heard from individuals and families within our denomination who are suffering great pain because of the disconnect between congregations that promise to love and nurture them and a denomination that still has policies that place limits on their full participation, labeling their lives and loves as incompatible with Christian teaching.  There is still much distance between the church as it is and the church as we desire it to be.  We can celebrate the now but must also acknowledge the not yet of our journey toward fully living out our calling as followers of Christ.

Next May in Minneapolis, delegates from around the world will again gather for General Conference.  Many groups have submitted petitions aimed at helping the denomination move through our current impasse.  I will share more about that process in this newsletter in the coming months.

For now, it seems important to caution ourselves to not rest all our hopes on a legislative solution to our predicament.  We need to live out our calling to love God and our neighbor right now in our local churches, to live lives individually and collectively that declare God’s love and grace in every way and in every place and to every one.  To expect and allow faith to change lives—our own included.

On the final day, the more than 60 representatives of the Rio Texas Annual Conference gathered. Amid the discussion of next steps and strategies, there were visceral moments of vulnerability. We heard the pain of those who have been left out and left behind, the pain of relationships fractured, and the pain of vocations in question. One woman said, “I’m so scared, and I don’t want to be scared alone. I want someone to hold hands with me.” Friends, this is the way through the pathless wood: to really speak the truth, name the pain, acknowledge the harm, bear the discomfort and fear but always together, holding hands, trusting that no matter what we are with each other and God is with us.

I am grateful for the ways our congregation has done this—the ways we have stood together, welcomed together, worshiped together, shared our pain and our hopes together—even when it stretched us or challenged us to do so. I believe we are truly seeking to say to one another, and to newcomers: “All are welcome here. We honor each one and the gifts each one brings.” And I hope for more; we hope for more—for our church and our denomination—that somehow by God’s grace we are being sanctified, made perfect in love. These are times which unsettle us, but I believe this is a Kairos moment, a gift from God, that invites us to claim anew our calling to be the Beloved Community that God intends for us. We are not powerless, and God is not bound by our structures and policies. We can live into our calling, right here, right now.

Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us . . .   Ephesians 3:20 CEB

Katie Myers, Lay Leader