He Wants You Back

He Wants You Back

He Wants You Back

By BJ Funk

My oldest son texted words that hit like a large brick thrown at my stomach. He wrote, “My birth mother passed.”

I wasn’t prepared for this. I remember that joyous moment when the lady with the adoption agency placed this baby in my arms. She said, “His birth mother had only one request; that he be put in a Christian home.”

Grace looked inside my heart that day and whispered, “This child is yours.” He was beautiful and perfect. He was perfectly beautiful. He still is. It was instant love for me. My gratitude to her gained a permanent place in my heart. Though I didn’t know her, I knew her. And, whatever her reasons, she gifted me with her child. I don’t know how she did it.

I prayed for her. I cried for her. And from the minute he was placed in my arms, it was as if there were two mothers rearing this precious boy. At first, I thought of her every day. I thought of her at milestones in his life and wished I could have let her know. I prayed for her at every birthday, joyous that he was mine but wishing he could somehow also be hers.

The adoption lady called when he was not quite a year. His birth mother married, and wanted to see if she could get him back. The law said that wasn’t possible. Just the thought of something like that happening made me weak. However, I was so grateful that I had something to tell my son when he was old enough to understand. She wanted him back. One day that would ring in his ears and gratitude would touch his soul. She wanted him back.

I can’t imagine how she dealt with that.  So, I prayed for her. I cried for her. And my gratitude grew even larger.

I loved being a mother. She gave up so that I could have. And now she was gone.

Eventually, my son wanted to meet her. I knew it was risky. What if she turned him down? I did not want him to be hurt.  He and I went to the courthouse files to find her name. Then, I contacted an adoption agency in our state. That led to our having a phone number to call her. It was exciting and frightening at the same time. I was comforted, however, in that, after her marriage, she wanted him back. Knowing that gave me a spotlight into her soul, and I believed her soul was good.

Our first conversation was positive. Later, my son and his wife flew out to meet them. You know how we say that God took care of something beyond our expectation? Well, he did it again.

She and her family embraced them both. and thus began a tradition. Now they fly to be with his family every Christmas. The man his birth mother married calls him “son.” He is included in their family reunions and in their Christmas letter to friends. Amazingly, I also get one of those letters. I met her once. Like her son, she was beautiful. My constant gratitude for how God worked all of this out humbles me.

Is there a Jesus story here? I’m glad you asked.

Long after sin snatched away our innocence in the Garden of Eden, crushing us with evil’s grasp, Jesus knelt before his Father and heard, “Son, it’s time for our plan. I want my children back.”

Jesus was nailed to the cross. He bled and died. He conquered the power of sin over us. He took back what belonged to Him when He said on the cross, “It is finished.”

He took you back. Sin will always be crouching at your door, but it does not have power over you. Why? Because God took you back. You are free from sin’s control.

That should stir up a large hallelujah somewhere deep inside your soul.

B.J. Funk is Good News’ long-time devotional columnist and author of  It’s A Good Day for Grace, available on Amazon.

He Wants You Back

GMC Convening Event to be held in Costa Rica

GMC Convening Event to be held in Costa Rica

By Walter Felton (Global Methodist Church)

“Prayer teams and networks all around the Global Methodist Church are daily calling on the Lord for His empowerment and presence at the church’s convening General Conference,” said the Rev. Laura Ballinger, chairwoman of the denomination’s Prayer Steering Committee. “We firmly believe Jesus spoke the truth when he said, ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’”

Ballinger, a pastor in Indiana, is also co-leader of the Prayer Committee of the Transitional Commission on the Convening General Conference. She is just one of many people preparing for the Global Methodist Church’s initial gathering in San Jose, Costa Rica, September 20-26, 2024. Organizers, who have already completed a number of tasks on a long checklist, said prayer is essential and foundational to their work and they joyfully receive every intercession made on their behalf.

Even though the GM Church already has 4,407 local churches and over two dozen provisional annual conferences and districts around the world, it is still a denomination very much in transition. Church leaders believe there are thousands of local United Methodist congregations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas hoping to join it before its convening General Conference. How to integrate these local churches and the provisional annual conferences and districts they are likely to form in the coming months pose significant challenges to the convening conference’s organizers.

“It is a wonderful challenge to have, but it’s still very much a challenge,” said the Rev. Beth Ann Cook, chairwoman of the Transitional Commission on the Convening General Conference. “We have two compelling and somewhat competing tasks before us. For those of us who are already members of the church we are eager to advance its mission at its first gathering, and yet we also want to make sure we leave room at the table so we can include the voices of those who are still trying to join us.” (Editor’s note: Cook also serves on the Good News Board of Directors.)

Former United Methodist congregations account for the vast majority of GM local churches, and 80 to 90 percent of them are located in the United States. The people in these churches availed themselves of a provision in the UM Church’s Book of Discipline that allowed them to vote to disaffiliate from the church. However, congregations in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines were not afforded this opportunity. GM Church leaders are aware of local UM churches in these geographical areas that are in process of exiting the latter and joining the former. They also believe many more would like to do so but are still searching for an orderly way to make the transition.

Since March of 2020, a body known as the Transitional Leadership Council (TLC) has been responsible for the GM Church’s formation and it has led the nascent denomination since its official launch on May 1, 2022. Originally intended as a temporary, transitional body on the heels of the UM Church’s 2020 General Conference, where many people believed the UM Church would approve an amicable and orderly separation, the Covid-19 pandemic and three postponements of that General Conference kept the GM Church’s TLC functioning far longer than its members anticipated.

Early last year the council created and then tasked the commission Cook leads to plan the GM Church’s convening General Conference. She notes that the commission is composed entirely of laity and clergy who are serving as volunteers while they simultaneously holding down day jobs. The GM Church will announce soon the hiring of a full-time business manager to help execute many of the logistical plans for the conference.

“All the commission members are very excited and honored to play a role in helping organize the church’s first General Conference,” she said. “But they’re increasingly aware of the temptation to try to do too much at our initial gathering. Generally speaking, we’ve come to some consensus around critical things we want to accomplish: First, we want to engage in reverent and joyful worship giving God thanks and praise for bringing us to this point. Second, we want to attend closely to the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, amending it so it becomes the GM Church’s Book of Doctrines and Discipline. It must be a book that clearly states who we are, what our mission is, and how we intend to accomplish it, and it must receive the imprimatur of our duly elected lay and clergy delegates. And finally, we plan to adopt a constitution that guards our life-giving confessions of faith rooted in Scripture and the traditions of the church catholic and brings God honoring order to the church and protects her people.”

“Planning a convening General Conference that is God honoring and that is as fair and gracious as possible to those who are already GMC members and to those yet to join is an awesome responsibility,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, the GM Church’s Transitional Connectional Officer. “I pray the Lord will pour out his Holy Spirit on us, making us a humble, patient, and grace-filled people as we take this step into the future he has for us.”

Between General Conferences, the denomination will be led by its bishops, and it is anticipated a duly elected body of clergy and lay people will serve on a Connectional Council. The latter will replace the Transitional Leadership Council.

“While it has been a great privilege to serve on the council, I think I’m speaking for all its members when I say, ‘We’re more than ready to pass the baton to a permanent body elected by the delegates to the convening General Conference,’” said Cara Nicklas, the TLC’s Chairwoman. “Our fervent prayers are with the commission planning the conference, with the annual conferences and districts who will elect delegates, and with our bishops who will preside at our conference sessions. I am confident it will be a time of great thanksgiving and praise.”

Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer. You can read news reports and developments from the Rev. Fenton at GlobalMethodist.org.

He Wants You Back

Extending Fair Disaffiliation Options

Extending Fair Disaffiliation Options

By Thomas Lambrecht

The main agenda items for the Renewal and Reform Coalition at the 2024 General Conference meeting in Charlotte, NC, April 23-May 3 relate to providing new disaffiliation pathways for churches and annual conferences that have not been offered a fair opportunity to disaffiliate so far. This will be an uphill battle. United Methodist bishops and other leaders want to turn the page on disaffiliation and put it behind them. UM leaders are aghast at the high number of congregations that have disaffiliated in the U.S., particularly in the South and Midwest. They do not want to lose any more.

So, the UM establishment is putting on a full-court press to prevent any more disaffiliation pathways from being enacted at the 2024 General Conference. It is important to understand why these pathways are needed and what the two pathways submitted by African delegates are designed to accomplish.

Why New Disaffiliation Pathways? United Methodists outside the U.S. have not been allowed to consider disaffiliation under the Par. 2553 pathway provided by the 2019 General Conference. This arbitrary decision by bishops without obtaining a ruling from the Judicial Council has disenfranchised the majority of the church that lives outside the U.S.

Some congregations and one annual conference outside the U.S. have been able to disaffiliate. They did so either by ignoring the requirements of the Discipline or by a negotiated pathway with their particular central conference. Such a negotiated pathway is not realistically available in all the central conferences, and it is never a good idea to foster ignoring of the church’s Discipline.

The Judicial Council has ruled that annual conferences may not disaffiliate unless the General Conference provides a process for them to do so. Several annual conferences in Africa or elsewhere may desire to disaffiliate. Therefore, it is necessary for the General Conference to provide a way for annual conferences to do so.

In the U.S., nearly a dozen annual conferences (out of 53) imposed extra financial and other costs on churches desiring to disaffiliate. These costs ranged up to 50 percent of the congregation’s property value, additional financial fees, and in some cases an outright ban on traditional congregations disaffiliating. Whereas, denomination-wide about 26 percent of congregations disaffiliated, in these conferences requiring extra costs only about 13 percent of congregations disaffiliated. And in the most extreme examples, less than five percent of congregations disaffiliated because the cost for doing so was nearly impossible for most churches.

At least two bishops and several district superintendents that we know of lobbied their churches not to disaffiliate in 2023. They said that the General Conference had not yet met, and that one could not be certain what actions it would take. They assured their congregations there would be a way to disaffiliate after the 2024 General Conference, if it took actions they disagreed with. In order to make good on those promises, the General Conference needs to enact a disaffiliation pathway for local churches that want to respond to the likelihood that the 2024 Conference will allow same-sex weddings, the ordination of non-celibate LGBT persons, and repeal the Traditional Plan.

Simple fairness and justice demand that the General Conference provides a realistic disaffiliation option for those outside the U.S., as well as those few congregations in the U.S., that have not had that realistic opportunity.

Annual Conference Disaffiliation. Right now, there is in the Discipline a way for an annual conference outside the U.S. to become an autonomous Methodist Church (Par. 572). It requires that the conference write its own new Book of Discipline and obtain approval from the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, from the central conference in which the annual conference is located, from two-thirds of all the other annual conference members in that central conference, and from the General Conference. Due to the lengthy process and all the approvals required, the process can take years and is not certain to succeed.

In addition, the process requires the annual conference to become autonomous. But those annual conferences that might seek disaffiliation in response to General Conference action desire to join another Wesleyan denomination, not become autonomous. They should not be forced to go through the process of becoming autonomous in order to move to another denomination.

The Renewal and Reform Coalition is supporting a proposed new Par. 576 that would allow an annual conference outside the U.S. to transfer to another Wesleyan denomination. They could adopt the Discipline of that other denomination, rather than having to write their own. It would require only a two-thirds vote by the disaffiliating annual conference and the majority approval of its central conference. Local churches and clergy in that annual conference desiring to remain United Methodist could do so, with provision made by the central conference for a continuing UM presence where desired.

This much shorter and less laborious process would allow annual conferences outside the U.S. to determine where their most faithful future of ministry lies. They would not be forced to remain in a denomination that has changed its teachings in ways they cannot support. And they would not be subject to the uncertainty of a years-long process that may or may not bring about their disaffiliation.

Local Church Disaffiliation. The Coalition is supporting a proposed new Par. 2553 to allow local churches to disaffiliate, both outside and in the U.S. It would maintain the current requirements of Par. 2553 for two years’ apportionments and payment of pension liabilities. But it would prevent annual conferences from imposing additional financial costs on the disaffiliating church. It would also clarify the timelines for churches to disaffiliate, so that annual conferences cannot impose lengthy disaffiliation processes designed to discourage disaffiliation.

This new Par. 2553 would provide a realistic possibility for local churches to disaffiliate where they have not had the opportunity to do so. It would allow local churches outside the U.S. whose annual conference does not disaffiliate to make the decision that over 7,500 local churches in the U.S. have made.

In a recent fundraising piece for “Mainstream UMC,” self-proclaimed centrist the Rev. Mark Holland writes, “Seriously, in this day and age, what organization stays together through coercion?” We agree. Churches should not be forced to remain United Methodist if they do not want to do so. The failure to allow non-U.S. churches to disaffiliate and the imposition of draconian costs on churches in the U.S. amounts to coercion. A coerced covenant is no real covenant at all. A coerced and unfair remainder of churches in the UM denomination is not healthy or good for a denomination that wants to move in a different direction. Hopefully, the 2024 General Conference delegates will consider fairness and provide the needed opportunities for realistic disaffiliation that have been lacking outside the U.S. and in some conferences in the U.S. Future historians and a watching world will see if they do the right thing.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.

He Wants You Back

Rethinking Regionalization

Rethinking Regionalization

By Thomas Lambrecht

The top agenda item for the 2024 General Conference in April for most progressives is to adopt “regionalization” as the new mode of United Methodist governance. This proposal would be a dramatic shift in how the UM Church functions. It would move from being a connectional church to a regional church, or even an association of national churches.

The regionalization proposal is similar to the U.S. central conference proposal that passed General Conference in 2008 but was overwhelmingly defeated by annual conferences in 2009. It would set up the U.S. as its own regional conference, along with three regional conferences in Europe, three in Africa, and one in the Philippines.

The key is that each regional conference would have the authority to create its own policies and standards in a number of key areas. These include:

• Clergy may not be able to easily transfer from one region to another if the qualifications and standards for ordination are different. Currently there are many African clergy serving in the U.S. That ability might be limited in the future if the qualifications for being ordained in an African conference differ significantly from those in the U.S.

• Local church membership could mean different things in different regions. Some regions could require extensive probationary periods before becoming a member and exhibit strict accountability to behavior standards for members, compared to other regions that have a “y’all come” approach to membership.

• Each regional conference would need to adopt its own regional Book of Discipline. They could not simply take the U.S. book and use it, since there would be significant differences. The only central (regional) conference that currently has its own Discipline is the Africa Central Conference. It was adopted in 1990 and has not changed since then, even though the UM Discipline has undergone massive changes in the last 30 years. And it was adopted before the Democratic Republic of Congo became a major center of United Methodist ministry, so there is a question whether that book governs only the current (Eastern and Southern) Africa Conference or whether it also governs the Congo Central Conference. Regardless, all seven central conferences outside the U.S. would need to write their own regional Discipline in order to function under regionalization – something that is currently not required, nor practiced. Not only would they have the heavy work of writing their own new Discipline, but they would have to maintain it with appropriate changes every four years as a regional conference, rather than relying on the work of General Conference to keep the Discipline current.

• Each region would have its own accountability process. We have seen, especially in Africa, how the current accountability process is not being followed properly. A few bishops are excommunicating lay members and defrocking clergy without any due process, completely contrary to the Discipline. If the accountability process (including investigations and trials) is removed from the general Discipline, one can imagine how the rule of law would go out the window in certain areas and bishops would become dictators, to the detriment of the church’s life and ministry.

• The current practice of holding bishops accountable only within their region has not worked. Regionalization would codify that practice and make it even more difficult to ensure that bishops behave with integrity, respecting due process and the rights of clergy.

• With the ability to have different chargeable offenses in different regions, clergy will be held accountable to different standards. What is not allowed in one region could be perfectly legal in another. These unequal standards not only create inconsistency as to what is expected of clergy across the church, but they could occasion resentment between clergy of different regions who are treated differently. Again, it undermines the connection.

• United Methodist bishops are bishops of the whole church, not just their episcopal area. But opening the legal possibility of having openly gay bishops means they could participate in meetings and events in countries where homosexuality is against the law. Will bishops be redefined as only regional bishops, able to serve only within their region? Regionalization raises problems with having a general episcopacy.

Regionalization Rationale. The rationale for regionalization is to allow each geographic region of the church to adapt the above provisions of the Discipline to fit the missional needs of its region. There is also the argument that many of the resolutions on social issues that General Conference addresses relate mainly to the United States and are not of interest to the rest of the global church. Creating a U.S. regional conference would allow the U.S. delegates to issue specific resolutions or take positions on issues that are U.S.-centric without the need for other delegates to participate in discussions that do not concern them.

On the surface, it may seem like the regionalization idea makes sense. Greater flexibility to adapt the rules of the church to meet the needs of each region could make the church’s mission more effective. It seems that the Discipline has moved in the direction of micro-managing the life and work of the church over the past 20 years, not just in the area of sexual morality, but in many other ways, as well. Do we really need 850 pages of rules to run the church by?

One approach to this problem would be to make the rules in the Discipline more general and flexible, so that different cultural contexts could function equally well within the same framework without needing to adapt any of the provisions. This is the approach taken by the new Global Methodist Church Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline.

The other approach is to have a general Book of Discipline that governs some of the functions of the church, while then allowing each region to pass its own Discipline to govern the functions of the church in that region. However, there are some philosophical problems with that approach, as well as some practical problems.

Why Regionalization? This type of regionalization is a relatively recent development. In 2012, the General Conference began to move toward allowing central conferences outside the U.S. greater flexibility in adapting the Book of Discipline to their particular context. However, this was not finalized in 2016, but only in process until 2020 (which was of course postponed by the pandemic).

The original concept of adaptability for the Discipline was meant to allow for different laws and property procedures in different countries outside the U.S. But the expansion to other areas of adaptability was (I believe) a precursor to justifying greater adaptability for the U.S. church. If the central conferences outside the U.S. had the ability to adapt the Discipline in the ways listed above, one could hardly deny the U.S. church the same ability to adapt the Discipline. Never mind that the majority of General Conference delegates has always been from the U.S. and the Discipline has always been written primarily from a U.S. context, meaning that such adaptation was hardly necessary.

The real reason for regionalization and adaptability is to allow the U.S. church to liberalize its standards regarding marriage and LGBT persons. Each of the bullet points above has a direct relationship to LGBT persons. Adapting the qualifications for ordination would allow the U.S. church to ordain non-celibate LGBT persons. Adapting the qualifications for lay membership would allow the U.S. church to forbid pastors from preventing non-celibate LGBT persons to become local church members and serve in leadership in the local church, district, and annual conference. Adapting the rules of procedure for holding clergy and lay members accountable would allow the U.S. church to prevent trials for LGBT clergy or for clergy performing same-sex weddings. Adapting the chargeable offenses would allow the U.S. church to remove from the list of chargeable offenses anything related to same-sex marriage and non-celibate LGBT persons serving as clergy. Adapting the hymnal and the rituals would allow the U.S. church to create liturgies for same-sex weddings and potentially alter the ordination vows to mandate support for LGBT persons.

In the wake of the 2019 General Conference’s affirmation of a traditional perspective on marriage and human sexuality, progressives have rebelled. They decided to move ahead with same-sex weddings and the ordination of non-celibate LGBT persons regardless of what the Discipline said. Regionalization would give them the legal ability to do so within the Discipline by codifying different standards and policies for the U.S. church than those adopted in Africa and other regions.

This is the goal of regionalization, as articulated in a recent “Mainstream UMC” fundraising letter. “Homosexuality is the flashpoint in this conversation.  A US-only vote likely would have permitted LGBTQ ordination and marriage as many as 12 years ago, just like the US Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Disciples have done. … The mean-spirited Traditional Plan of 2019 – which doubles down on the harm – has proven to be the tipping point in the United States. Either this policy is completely repealed at General Conference 2024, along with the other anti-LGBTQ language, or the exodus continues, and likely accelerates, in the United States.” (The letter is referring to an exodus of progressives and LGBT persons, which Mainstream UMC blames for the decline in UM membership over the past 40 years. Never mind that, while LGBT-affirming mainline denominations have all declined precipitously, non-denominational evangelical churches and Pentecostal denominations with a traditional understanding of marriage and human sexuality have grown.)

Weakening the Connection. Methodism has always understood itself to be governed by a unique form of polity called “connectionalism.” It started with John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, who oversaw the growing Methodist movement through all the preachers who were “in connection” with him. There was the emphasis on personal relationship, along with accountability, as the preachers met annually to determine “what to teach, how to teach, and what to do.” Decisions were made corporately (although heavily influenced by Wesley during his lifetime) and governed the actions of all the Methodist societies in connection with Wesley.

Following the regionalization approach runs the risk of beginning to undo the connection that binds all United Methodists together. Wesley identified that Methodists share a common doctrine, a common discipline, and a common spirit that binds us together. Theoretically, visiting a Methodist church anywhere one would find the same doctrines being preached, and same method of operating as a church, and the same spirit bringing unity to the body.

Importantly, the regionalization proposal keeps doctrine and the Social Principles as part of the general Discipline that applies to all United Methodists. However, the proposal also opens the various regions to have different levels of accountability for our common doctrine, codifying what exists today in a rather lax approach toward doctrinal accountability in some parts of the church.

Other aspects of the church’s life and ministry that really are of significance for our connection are also given adaptability. This includes clergy standards, qualifications for lay membership and leadership, and worship rituals. When these connectional items begin diverging from one region to another, it weakens the connection we have as United Methodists. Important areas of church life that were once decided by General Conference for all United Methodists would now be decided differently for each region of the church.

The ultimate end of such a process of disconnection could be that United Methodism becomes an association of regional or national churches, each one different from the other and having its own way of doing church. We could end up as more of a communion than a denomination. It could be similar to the Anglican Communion that has an Anglican denomination in each country overseen by an archbishop, but where the various national churches function quite differently from each other and have different standards, rules, and even beliefs.

What about colonialism? It is unquestionably true that UM governance has always had a U.S.-centric approach. Particularly in the realm of social issues and resolutions on particular justice issues, the focus was predominantly on the U.S., although that had begun to change by 2016 with greater attention and sensitivity to global issues and how resolutions could be worded to be more inclusive of global concerns.

The question is whether to solve the problem of U.S. centrism by decoupling the connection through allowing wholesale adaptability of the Discipline, or by allowing greater input from non-U.S. delegates to the forming of a global Discipline. Most progressives and the church’s “establishment” chose the route of adaptability, first through the defeated U.S. central conference plan and then through initiating changes in the Discipline in 2012. Traditionalists have consistently favored the second approach of moving toward a more globally inclusive Discipline. That was the stark contrast between the One Church Plan in 2019 that would have allowed maximum adaptability, and the Traditional Plan that maintained a global standard.

But in its quest to rid the denomination of its U.S. centrism and colonial undertones, does the new regionalization proposal codify a new form of colonialism? Some African leaders have said yes. A closer analysis of the proposal shows they are right.

Curious Timing. It is interesting that the big push for regionalization comes just as the U.S. church membership has moved into a minority status. Even before disaffiliations began, membership outside the U.S. had pulled even with U.S. membership. This was not reflected in the percentage of delegates at General Conference, particularly for Africa, as the formula for delegates favors the U.S. with its very large number of retired clergy and clergy serving in extension ministry.

Even as African membership was increasing by 10 to 20 percent per quadrennium, their delegate percentage would only increase by less than five percentage points. It was going to be at least a decade or more before African delegate percentage more accurately reflected their percentage of membership. That, of course, changed with disaffiliation, which has drastically cut U.S. lay and clergy membership.

But Mainstream UMC is panicking over the fact that U.S. delegates will soon be in the minority. “In 2012, … international delegates totaled nearly 1/3 of the votes. For General Conference 2024, the delegates from outside the US will be close to 45 percent. In four years, it will be almost 55 percent.”

In other words, just when non-U.S. delegates are poised to have a significant voice in denominational governance, progressives want to marginalize them through regionalization. No matter what the non-U.S. delegates believe, the U.S. delegates that are a majority progressive can do what they want. Non-U.S. delegates will no longer be able to “interfere” with what the U.S. delegates want. In another fundraising letter, Mainstream UMC states, “There is a growing sentiment in the US that we will not fund a church that constrains our outreach to our local mission field. Period.”

No Override Option. The current regionalization proposal has no provision for the General Conference to override the decision of a regional conference. If a regional conference enacts something that is contrary to UM governance, the only recourse is to file an objection with the Judicial Council, which is difficult to do and made more difficult by the regionalization plan itself. Another region may not have standing to bring an action before the Judicial Council under the new regime of regionalization.

A previous version of the regionalization proposal allowed a regional action to be overturned by a two-thirds vote of the General Conference. Of course, the U.S. would have more than one-third of the votes, so its actions would not be overturned. But Europe, the Philippines, and the three African regions would each have less than one-third of the votes, so their actions could be overridden, while the U.S. would not.

Other Favorable U.S. Treatment. There are other ways in which the U.S. gets favorable treatment under the current proposal. Other regions could set the tenure of their bishops, but the U.S. bishops would be guaranteed life tenure by the Constitution.

The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters would continue with its current 30 to 40 percent U.S. representation. But the U.S. regional conference would have only 14 non-U.S. delegates, making up only 3 percent of the conference. Thus, the U.S. would have a bigger say in non-U.S. matters than non-U.S. delegates would have for U.S. matters.

The General Conference could change the boundaries of non-U.S. regional conferences without the consent of its annual conferences but changing the boundaries of jurisdictions in the U.S. would still require annual conference consent. Again, U.S. conferences would have more say in their affairs than non-U.S. conferences in theirs.

It is no wonder that some African leaders and delegates are opposing the regionalization proposal. In an effort to ostensibly remove colonialism from UM governance, regionalization as currently proposed installs new, discriminatory provisions that reinforce U.S. autonomy and superiority. One must ask whether the UM Church is exchanging one form of colonialism for another. It is enough to cause second thoughts on whether this is the direction the UM Church should take going forward. Time will tell how the General Conference delegates and annual conference members evaluate this proposal.

Inconsistent Identity. What does it mean to be United Methodist? Already, there is confusion and inconsistency between different local churches who claim the same name but teach a different theology and practice Methodism differently. Regionalization will only accelerate the inconsistency of identity. The United Methodist “brand” will suffer a loss of identity.

For traditionalists in Africa and elsewhere, the worst consequence is that they will be tagged for being part of a denomination that performs same-sex weddings and has openly gay clergy and bishops, even if that does not happen in their particular region. What affects United Methodist identity in one region affects that identity in all regions. And each region affected is powerless to change that reality.

Regionalization sounds good until one begins to unpack the intended and unintended consequences. At the very least, it would mark a dramatic shift in how The United Methodist Church functions as a denomination. It is being done at the behest of promoting LGBTQ equality and cementing control by the American part of the church of its own affairs. Delegates should think long and hard before taking such a drastic step.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.

He Wants You Back

New Stage for Unique Methodist Collection

New Stage for Unique Methodist Collection

By Sam Hodges (United Methodist News)

Out of sight for more than two years, a leading Methodist historical collection is back on display in a new home: Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas.

John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, remains the star of the show, as he was during the collection’s many years at the now-closed World Methodist Museum in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

At Bridwell Library, Wesley is represented by portraits, his traveling pulpit, a lock of his hair, a copy of his death mask and various ceramic busts and statuettes. But portraits and photos of women Methodist leaders also are featured, as are those of leaders of color who faithfully spread Wesleyan theology and practice across the world.

“I’m quite impressed by the diversity of the people depicted,” said James Stanley, who toured the exhibition one day recently during a break from his studies in Perkins’ doctor of pastoral music program. “That makes me happy.”

Such a reaction hits the sweet spot for Anthony Elia, director of Bridwell Library. He relishes having the collection but saw its reemergence as a chance to shake things up. “You’ll see a range of backgrounds and ethnic groups that you might not generally see in the traditional Methodist narratives,” he said.

The World Methodist Museum opened at Lake Junaluska – the picturesque Blue Ridge retreat and meeting center – in 1956 as a ministry of the World Methodist Council. The council’s top leaders then included the Rev. Elmer T. Clark. He was a renaissance man of mission and ministry, and he donated his collection of artifacts and portraits from early Methodism to get the museum started.

For decades, many Methodists and others who visited Lake Junaluska would stop by the World Methodist Museum. Its holdings gradually swelled with acquisitions and donations –  far more than could be on display. But in early 2020, the pandemic forced the museum to shut its doors. By February 2021, the World Methodist Council decided on permanent closure, citing the costs of staffing, utilities and upkeep. Two former top executives of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History, the Revs. Robert J. Williams and Alfred T. Day III, were part of a committee the World Methodist Council formed to recommend what to do with the museum’s collection.

The committee insisted it should remain intact – not be scattered among institutions. Bridwell’s pitch to be the collection’s new home prevailed with the committee and the council’s leadership. The decision happened quickly. By April 2021, Elia was at Lake Junaluska to help pack hundreds of boxes.

“I was there for a couple of weeks,” he said. A specialty moving firm used a tractor-trailer truck to bring the collection to Atlanta, where it was in storage for a while. Then it was on to Bridwell, which, with Perkins, is on the campus of Dallas’ Southern Methodist University.

The library’s staff began a long period of sorting and evaluating what had arrived. Elia hoped to have a display up by spring 2023. But Bridwell got the chance to be part of a five-stop tour of the Codex Sassoon, an 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible. This was a coup for Bridwell – and drew crowds – but delayed work on the World Methodist Museum materials. A big push by Elia and his staff came last summer, and the exhibition opened on October 2 in three gallery rooms at Bridwell, under the name World Methodist Museum Collections.

Among those getting an early look was David Worthington. He’s director of global relationships at John Wesley’s New Room, an important Methodist historical site in Bristol, England. Worthington gave a talk at Bridwell titled “Methodism Comes to America: the Bristol Connection” — and also gave his blessing to the exhibition.

“I think Anthony’s done a fantastic job in curating the collection and I hope many visitors will now get to learn of this story of the early Methodist movement and its development across the world,” Worthington told UM News by email.

Those who enter the exhibition space encounter Wesley’s traveling pulpit, a large, plain wooden object he used for preaching out of doors.

“It’s heavy as lead,” said the Rev. Ted Campbell, Albert C. Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins. “They would have had to have carried it by horse- or mule-drawn cart.”

Elia believes the pulpit is destined to be the exhibition’s most popular spot for selfie photos.

Portraits of John Wesley, his brother Charles (the great hymn writer and co-founder of Methodism) and their mother, Susanna, done retrospectively by 20th century artist Frank O. Salisbury, grace one wall. Nearby is Henry Perlee Parker’s painting showing the rescue of the young John Wesley from the Epworth Rectory Fire.

Other key figures of early Methodism, such as Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, are represented with portraits. Philip Otterbein, who founded a denomination that would eventually merge with the Methodist Church, is depicted in a painting by John Wesley Jarvis – great, great nephew of John Wesley.

John Wesley artifacts, including the lock of hair, the death mask, one of his letters and sundry statuettes, are on display in glass exhibition cabinets. So is Asbury’s battered travel trunk. Many more artifacts are in storage, and the variety and number of them speak to how the early Methodist leaders, especially Wesley, captured the imagination of so many.

“The way we tell our identity as Methodists is to talk about that story of John Wesley,” Campbell said. But at Bridwell, visitors will be reminded that Methodism has had remarkable leaders across the world and through the generations. The first portrait visitors to the Bridwell exhibition are likely to see is not of John Wesley but of the Rev. Helenor Alter Davisson, the first woman ordained in American Methodism.

As prominently displayed as the portraits of the Wesley family members are those of Richard Allen, James Varick, and William H. Miles. They were key early figures in, respectively, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.

Elia and his staff found photos of 28 leaders of Methodism from scattered countries and, for a wall display, grouped them around an enlarged image of John Wesley’s signature. Nearby are placards with summary bios of those men and women, as well as another display that focuses on women who made an outsize contribution in early Wesleyan Christianity.

So along with the Wesleys, Coke and Asbury, a visitor can learn about, say, Escriváo Aglaze Zunguze, first African bishop in the Methodist Church, Wenyan Chen, bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in China (once called “China’s No. 1 Protestant” by Time magazine), and Mary Bosanquet Fletcher, an 18th- and early 19th-century female Methodist evangelist in England.

Campbell said that the exhibition is “giving a more accurate and full expression of Methodism throughout the world.” The exhibition’s title – World Methodist Museum Collections – pays tribute to the Lake Junaluska era, as does a portrait of Clark and signage sharing the museum’s history.

Plans call for creating an online guide to the collection and for a publicity push to let more people know about the exhibition, which offers free admission and already has attracted church and student groups. 

For Worthington, it’s cheering that so much Methodist history has been preserved and in one place. He addressed the World Methodist Council in Lake Junaluska in 2013 and took the opportunity to visit the World Methodist Museum. He recalls that the portraits and artifacts testified to how Methodism was born in 18th-century England and soon came to North America, where it spread with the United States’ expansion.

Said Worthington: “It seems somewhat fitting that the World Methodist Council’s museum collection has taken the same direction of travel as it has moved west from Lake Junaluska to Dallas.”

Sam Hodges is a Dallas-based writer for United Methodist News (www.umnews.org). We are grateful for his story and photos.

He Wants You Back

Journey of Prayer

Journey of Prayer

By Bonnie McClure

Prayer is so intimate. When we can become still enough to engage with it, we find ourselves facing our raw insides and feebly we attempt to articulate our hearts’ true desires and fears. Often we know immediately the truth about us is obscured. Either by distraction, discomfort, or disassociation, we find that speaking honestly from our hearts takes more transparency than we are very practiced at allowing.

But all good practices begin with bad attempts.

I have had, over the years, prayers placed in my hands from the desperation of others looking for guidance, healing, affirmation, and hope. My sensitivity for empathy would come to deeply revere the vulnerability that it takes to ask someone to take a struggle or trial before God.

“I’ll pray for you,” is more than a pleasant nod, a polite sympathy, it is an invitation to act in the faith we proclaim we believe in together and raise the matter of what we see before the eternal, which is unseen.

This transforms us.

Just because it isn’t seen doesn’t mean it is less real, and Jesus tries to explain this to us in the simplest way he knows how, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).

It isn’t seeing to believe, that would be like refusing to plant the seed until we see for ourselves the fully bloomed flower. No, instead it is believing to see, burying the small kernel in the dark soil, leaving it there to bask in the sunlight and watering it faithfully. There is only one order of operations here: First, Believe. Second, See.

My prayers have looked different over time and previously this has bothered me. Until I considered every other area of development and I notice how it takes a fair amount of bumping and bruising your way along to come into a formation of something strong, lasting, and true.

The gate is narrow but the way is broad. Jesus is the constant that draws my myriad of prayer experiences together into one straight line wherein all points to him. I have said prayers of desperation, prayers of rote ritual, prayers where I know I am consumed with my own selfishness, prayers where I surrender everything, prayers where I say nothing, prayers where I insist on staying with a matter because I know to abandon it is to enter an agreement that God is not at work and though something tempts me heavily to give up, I won’t.

I have learned to pray by listening. I have learned to pray by repeating. I have learned to pray by Scripture. I have learned to pray through fasting. I have learned to pray by attempting to connect to the love of God within me. I have learned to pray as if what I ask has already been accomplished.

For this is our promise, if the weary thought has materialized in my mind, then God is 25,000 steps ahead of me, already at work, and while the outcome may not resemble what I would prefer, I can rest in knowing there are a million tiny miracles I’ve probably already taken for granted and a million tiny miracles he will lead me through to come.

“I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23-25). In other words, I’ve seen your work, God, I know it is true. The world can produce every reason to doubt you, every evidence to discredit you, but the Word you gave me speaks truth directly into my life, it transforms everything and everyone around me, and I believe you are present … yet … there is this persistent resistance that I live with, this daily fight to lull me back into the safety of what I can touch and asks me to bow down to what sits on the thrones of my world. My unbelief, this pesky, little, human tendency that fears the world may actually be the true reflection.

To believe fully, it is not just a matter of effort that we can crank up, roll up our sleeves and signal a virtue with God. We can demonstrate duty, honor, and virtue with everyone except God.

God sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). And we don’t have to be ashamed of that. He sees it more clearly than we do. With our judgments of right and wrong, justifications, narratives and self-deception, he wipes all that clear, if we let him, and instead he himself forms in us, he is born in us, but it isn’t all at once with great clamor, remember? The child in the stable?

And I think but I don’t know that this mystery of prayer within us is akin to the way God can be the Trinity – three in one Godhead. He can be God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit all in one and all at once, but somehow also separate and independent of himself.

We see this mystery also in the names of God that are called upon throughout Scripture, God can be all at once and also separate and independent of himself:

• Healer (Exodus 15:26)
• Provider (Genesis 22:14)
• Banner of Victory (Exodus 17:15)
• Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9-10)

There is no equivalent in our human experience for this type of totality of existence.

These are more than just different aspects or ways of relating to God, and yet these identities do not compete with one another. Being any more of a Healer does not diminish his capacity for being Provider. Often I must choose which cause to devote my energy to but God does not divide himself among the wonderful things he is. He is whole all the time and yet still accommodates for the intricacies that every need requires.

And when you start to open the door to what God could really be beyond our self imposed limitations, then we get an inkling of what prayer may really be, beyond our fledgling definitions and experiences.

All at once personal, intimate, and hidden, but also global, eternal, and revealing.

Consider the great I AM speaking through the “I am” statements of Jesus:

• The bread (John 6:35)
• The light (John 8:12)
• The shepherd (John 10:11)
• The vine (John 15:1)

Or the fruits of the Spirit. They are sourced from one singular thing: Jesus.

And so I grow to love that my prayers can be ritualistic and also divinely Spirit-led, scattered and broken and also powerful and focused, personal desires and also borne of selfless love for another, immediate physical needs and also spiritual goals that take many years to develop, logistical positions that must be filled and also wants that enrich my relationships, about things that are out of my control and also about things that are well within my control.

And it is in this way, holding these paradoxes, I make room in my heart for God to cover a multitude of sin with his multitude of love.

In this life, we get little glimpses of what love may be like, but here in our world they all inevitably lead to brokenness. But it’s okay because these expressions of love are not God, they’re human.

God’s is the only perfect and perfecting love. How sweet he gives us the journey of prayer to experience it.    

Bonnie McClure is an active member of her Methodist community in Bremen, Georgia. She writes regularly about Christian Healing on her Substack blog, The Pointed Arrow.