Can Methodists learn anything about effective Christian evangelism from their denomination’s founding period 250 years ago?
“Yes,” says a Duke University professor, who told 600 church developers how the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, gave rise to a movement that swept the young United States of America.
“Early Methodism was evangelistic,” the Rev. Laceye Warner (pictured right) explained to the 2009 United Methodist School of Congregational Development in July. “When the Wesleys talked about spreading ‘Scriptural holiness,’ they meant evangelism.” She defined evangelism as preaching the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ and “living it out.”
One of the recurring themes at successive annual Schools of Congregational Development, which are sponsored by the United Methodist Boards of Discipleship and Global Ministries, is the decline in Methodist membership in the United States (and also in Britain, where it originated). Mission-founded expressions of the denomination found elsewhere are growing.
Reclaiming strengths. Numbers alone are not all that matters, said Warner, who holds a chair of evangelism at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina.
Among the qualities of early Methodism that could help the contemporary church reclaim its earlier strengths is the idea that growth in grace is as important as growth in numbers. Other relevant qualities are the beliefs that theological reflection is essential, sustained Christian practices maintain the community of faith, and wealth and material goods are meant to be shared.
The building blocks for the early Methodist movement included “classes” and “bands” that developed after people responded to Methodist preaching, often set in open fields and other public spaces, rather than in church buildings.
Classes were groups of 10 to 12 people organized by geographic location—neighborhoods—while bands were 6 to 8 people who voluntarily came together for spiritual nurture. There were two kinds of bands: “select” and “penitential” or “over-achievers” and “backsliders.” But, when the lists of band members are examined, those who show up on the “select” list were once themselves among the “penitential,” Warner said.
“The experience of sanctification was expected to take place in small groups,” she continued, “but it didn’t happen for all at the same pace. We have one record of it taking someone 48 years to experience sanctification.” Growth in grace, Warner said, was as important to the Wesleys as expanding membership rolls. The growth was steady but gradual.
People fed one another spiritually in the early Methodist movement; they kept personal journals that were shared. Not everyone stayed with the spiritual and social “discipline” that the Wesleys taught and practiced. Scriptural and “social holiness” were partners in the Wesleyan movement. Warner indicated that membership loss started at the very beginning among those who did not share the vision.
By Elliot Wright, information officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. This article was distributed by United Methodist News Service.
By Phillip C. Thrailkill
Hope and Michael were lead characters in the once-popular TV show Thirtysomething. She was a Christian and he a Jew. As I was reading Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew, I was reminded of an argument between the two characters during a December episode.
Hope is on the attack, “Why do you even bother with Hanukkah? Do you really believe a handful of Jews held off a huge army using a bunch of lamps that miraculously wouldn’t run out of oil?”
Michael explodes, “Oh, and Christmas makes more sense? Do you really believe an angel appeared to some teenage girl who then got pregnant without ever having had sex and traveled on horseback to Bethlehem, where she spent the night in a barn and had a baby who turned out to be the Savior of the world?”
The Christian story is an incredible one, hard to swallow for someone who doesn’t believe in an unseen reality, or that God might show up in the world. For such skeptics, the Christian story requires a major shift in worldview.
But even a person who believes the historical accounts of Jesus might still have a heart of stony unbelief. Faith is not something we produce by a combination of biblical knowledge, will power, and emotional zeal. Faith is not our doing; it’s a gift from God. It’s not just intelligent assent. It is experiential and experimental. Faith requires engaging God.
In our Christian lives we must do business with the Lord, just as Mary, the mother of Jesus, did. We must hear the Word of God, just as Mary did. We must receive the incredible news that God desires to implant Christ within us, just as Mary did. And we must surrender to an uncertain future in which God draws us out into his work in the world, just as Mary did.
In our Christian journey, which requires the whole person—our mind, our emotions, and our will—Mary can be a mentor and spiritual guide.
Mary, the magnificent insignificant.
What can we say of Mary but that she was a village girl, likely unable to read, with the whole of her life pre-programmed. As property to be traded between her father and husband-to-be with a dowry, she would have an arranged marriage, bear children one after another and be dead perhaps by age 30, having lived the religiously “insignificant” life of a female. Mary was young in a culture that valued age; female in a culture where men ruled; poor in a rural economy, with no children yet to give her status. She was among the powerless people in her society, and it is for this reason that so many poor around the world find in Mary such a friend. She is one of them. She understands oppression and the pressure of unmet needs.
God chose her when she had nothing but an empty, virginal womb to commend her—no priestly lineage, no long track record— just a simple Jewish village girl waiting for her wedding day.
But Mary’s faith was great, and to all who are poor she gives a new dignity. If God can use her, then why not me? If she can bear Christ physically, can I not bear him spiritually?
When God breaks in.
Then it happened. Into Mary’s world, likely her parents’ home, the angel Gabriel intrudes, unsheathes his presence and breaks the sound barrier: “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). There is a play of words here between the words hail and favored, both of which draw from the root meaning grace (charis). Gabriel bears the grace of God, which is not a thing but the gracious presence of God, to Mary. In essence, Gabriel is saying, “Good morning, Mary. You are chosen of the Lord whose presence and presents I bring to you.”
Mary’s reaction is worth notice. She responds on both emotional and intellectual levels. The Scripture says, “But she was greatly troubled at this saying [emotion], and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be [intellect]” (vs. 29). Mary is frightened and curious at the same time. The numinous is near.
When God comes near, all human capacities are put on high alert. For me, a clue that God is near is a shift of consciousness and an unusual focus of attention. An internal switch turns on. I am aware that the Holy Spirit is active in and around me; God is speaking, and it is time to listen. Perhaps an angel is present.
Encounters with spiritual reality always have multiple dimensions. Feelings are touched; the mind is set spinning. In religious experience, God claims the whole person. He may start with a part—a stirring in the heart or an illumination of the mind—but the goal is to focus all the powers of the person on the Lord. Therefore, we should not be discouraged by our own (or put off by others’) honest displays of emotion, by intellectual doubts, or deep wrestlings of the will. As with Mary, God may come to us through one of these avenues, but the goal is to align them all in obedience.
For me, the pattern is most often first the head, then the will, and finally the feelings follow afterwards. Yours may be a different order. For Mary, emotions were kindled first, then the mind was illumined. But still she had to make a decision, an act of the will that would reveal her heart. What did God want of her? And did she want what God wanted?
Notice Gabriel’s word of reassurance to Mary: “Do not be afraid” (vs. 30). Why does he say this? Because that is what she likely was, terrified! An angel intrudes into the world of a peasant girl whose life script has been laid out by her parents, her husband-to-be, and the social expectations of Nazareth. When one of God’s emissaries interrupts us when we’re going about our life, this is not just for entertainment. Such encounters are storm surges down the ravines of our lives that push us into the deep flow of God’s river.
Mary, the God-bearer.
God is messin’ with Mary’s life. She is afraid, and rightly so. Gabriel then delivers the invitation, as if it were already a done deal, “And behold [angelic slang for ‘Getta load of this!’], you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (vs. 31).
What happens next is important. In the form of a five-line prophecy (which may have been sung), Gabriel gives Mary a glimpse of the future of this child. “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (vs. 32). This is a messianic promise. Mary is invited to bear the long-awaited Messiah, one whose reign will never end. With these lyrics, we see the focus of the story is not on Mary, the bearer; it’s on Jesus, the born. Jesus will be the one who fulfills all the promises of God. Mary’s role is always secondary to his.
When the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci went to China in the sixteenth century, he brought samples of art to illustrate the story for people who had never heard it. The Chinese readily adopted portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but when Ricci produced paintings of the crucifixion and tried to explain that the God-child had grown up only to be executed, the audience reacted with revulsion and horror. They much preferred the Virgin and insisted on worshiping her rather than the crucified God.
The temptation is perpetual. But Jesus came in the incarnation to die in the crucifixion, and then to rule by resurrection and ultimate return. Mary is to be honored for her part in the incarnation, but not worshiped. The central figure is Jesus.
Mary, the Trinitarian theologian.
Notice that Mary talks back. Hear her juvenile voice tremble. She engages Gabriel in dialogue. A pubescent girl carrying on a conversation with the greatest power this side of heaven! Pretty bold on her part. But God is not put off by questions that are genuine. “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” (vs. 34). Mary was not ignorant of how and why babies come. Village life was earthy; Palestinian homes had little privacy.
Gabriel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
Here, the Trinitarian dimension of God’s coming is made explicit, and Mary becomes the first Trinitarian theologian. Theology will be written, so to speak, in her very flesh. God the Father (the transcendent one) sends a mediator so that God the Holy Spirit (the immanent one) can carry out actions, as God the Son (the incarnate one) is planted in Mary’s womb. Think of it. Mary, a worldly nobody, was caught up in the life of the Trinity. The word of the Father to her, the power of the Spirit upon her, the presence of the Son within her.
We, like Mary, are made for God. Hearing the Father’s voice, knowing the Spirit’s power, having Christ formed within us. This is our true dignity and our final destiny as redeemed human beings. Mary is our model and her son’s first follower. She is the first to know the revelation of God as a Triune communion of love.
This was, when you think of it, the fittest means of God’s coming. Since only women bear children, and since the incarnation should honor both sexes, it was necessary that the Savior be male. And the child thus formed would be without sin, fully human and fully God in one person. Emmanuel. God with us. The great God would come, and be little among us. “The God who roared, who could order armies and our empires around like pawns on a chessboard,” writes Philip Yancey, “this God emerged in Palestine as a baby who could not speak or eat solid food, or control his bladder, who depended on a teenager for shelter, food and love.”
Mary, the spiritual director.
But what will Mary’s answer be? If yes, the process and the prophesies thus outlined will unfold. If no, then the God who gives and respects freedom must search again. It is important that Mary’s decision be honored. Will she loan her body to God as his earthly mother? And so the angel, who has come with God’s offer, waits for Mary to come to the altar of surrender and the risk of faith. You decide for yourself how long the pause was between verses 37 and 38. Was it immediate, or did Gabriel have to twiddle his thumbs for a while?
There is a prayer I highly recommend. It is a summation of Mary’s prayer in only two words, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord.” When my heart is cold or stubborn or rebellious, I sometimes repeat it over and over till I begin to sense the smile of God upon me. Mary is my spiritual director; she teaches me how to pray, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord;” she says, “let it be to me according to your word.” Mine is often less elegant, “Here I am, Lord; do it in me, do it through me, do it in spite of me!”
An Eastern Church father, Cabasilas, summed up the transaction, “It was only after having instructed her and persuaded her that God took her for his Mother and borrowed from her the flesh that she so greatly wished to lend him.” With Mary’s yes the mission was ended, the conception completed, and Gabriel departed. And the revolution that flowed from Mary’s yes continues to shake the world.
The novelist Frederick Buechner has written: “Whether he was born in 4 B.C. or A.D. 6, in Bethlehem or Nazareth, whether there were multitudes of heavenly host to hymn the glory of it or just Mary and her husband when the child was born, the whole course of human history was changed.…Art, music, literature, Western culture itself with all its institutions and our Western man’s whole understanding of himself and his world—it is impossible to conceive how differently things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever and wherever and however it did. And there is a truth beyond that: for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it.”
What is your answer? How many signs do you need to trust? How is God calling you to bear Christ to the world? Will you say yes and leave the rest to God?
Phillip C. Thrailkill is the pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Hartsville, South Carolina. He is the former chair of the board of The Mission Society and the current chair of the Theology Commission for The Confessing Movement. You can receive Pastor Thrailkill’s weekly sermon via email by contacting him at PThrailkil@aol.com. This article was adapted from his book Mary: Lessons in Discipleship from Jesus’ Earthly Family © Phillip C. Thrailkill. Published by Bristol House, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.
For some years now Good News has been working for renewal and reform in the United Methodist Church.
We have maintained, and continue to maintain, that the greatest challenge facing the church has more to do with our fidelity to the truth of core doctrinal teachings than to organizational or structural matters. We have implored our leaders to clearly counter the corrosive claims of theological pluralism and agendas that seek to bring the church into conformity with popular culture rather than having the church serve as an agent for its godly transformation.
The General Council on Finance and Administration has determined that the economic and structural challenges facing the church warrant requesting that the Council of Bishops convene a special session of General Conference. We applaud GCFA’s attentiveness to the health and viability of clergy pensions. We certainly acknowledge that the church, along with individuals and organizations, has been adversely impacted by the economic downturn.
However, we also believe it would be a mistake to assume that macro-economic issues alone have led the church to our current financial and organizational crises.
Should the Council of Bishops determine to convene a special session to address not only the pension crisis, but reorganizational matters as well, we trust such a plan will not be based on the “World Wide Nature of the Church” amendments that were recently rejected by rank and file United Methodists around the globe. That plan failed to address deeper problems and instead proposed more bureaucracy as the way forward. We maintain that any reorganization plan must include at least the following: 1) the merging and/or elimination of various boards and agencies; 2) effective means for holding bishops, clergy and general secretaries accountable for the leadership of the church; and 3) the assurance that the church will remain firmly connected and not carved up into various regions.
We call on United Methodists to give close attention to the challenges facing the church and to pray for our bishops as they consider taking the extraordinary step of convening a special session of General Conference.
By Rob Renfroe, president and publisher of Good News.
Renewal group leaders meet with Bishops’ Unity Task Force
Statement from the Rev. Rob Renfroe, President and Publisher of Good News:
On November 5, 2009, twelve leaders of the renewal groups within the United Methodist Church met with the Bishops’ Unity Task Force. We were grateful for their invitation to meet at Lake Junaluska and to share our concerns about the unity of the church and how we can move forward in mission together. The same task force had previously met with a group representing the Reconciling Movement and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). (See below for persons representing the renewal groups and for the bishops present for the meeting.)
We had a wide-ranging and forthright discussion about the matters that threaten the unity of the United Methodist Church. We spoke about (1) the theological differences that divide our church; (2) events at General Conference that have concerned us; and (3) activities and decisions outside of General Conference by United Methodist leaders which have, at least in our thinking, created divisions rather than unity.
We were very clear that we respect the office of bishop and that we want our bishops to lead us by defending and promoting the church’s positions on controversial issues as stated in The Book of Discipline. We also made sure to state that whereas we can respectfully listen to all opinions and we can act graciously towards all people, we cannot accept all positions or compromise on what God has clearly revealed in the Scriptures.
We were heartened by the desire of the Bishops to hear us and to understand us. It was also encouraging to hear from them that many of the issues that concern us have been discussed in the Council of Bishops. All of us present were in agreement that there must be a better way “to do General Conference” and some ideas were shared along those lines. We are now determining if and how the conversation will continue.Thank you for caring for the United Methodist Church and for the cause of Christ.
Those representing the renewal groups were:
Billy Abraham (Perkins School of Theology)
Steve Wende (Pastor, First UM Church, Houston)
Tom Harrison (Pastor, Asbury UM Church, Tulsa)
Steve Wood (Pastor, Mt. Pisgah UM Church, Atlanta)
Alice Wolfe (Pastor, Anna UM Church, Anna, Ohio)
Chuck Savage (Pastor, Kingswood UM Church, Dunwoody, GA)
Pat Miller (Executive Director of The Confessing Movement)
Tom Lambrecht (Pastor, Faith Community UM Church, Greenville, Wisconsin, and coordinator of the Renewal and Reform Coalition efforts at General Conference 2008)
Liza Kittle (President of the Renew Network)
Larry Baird (District Superintendent, Western New York Annual Conference)
Eddie Fox (World Director of Evangelism for the World Methodist Council)
Rob Renfroe (President and Publisher of Good News and Associate Pastor, The Woodlands UM Church, The Woodlands, Texas.)
Statement from Bishop Sally Dyck, Bishops’ Unity Task Force
Our meeting with the Renewal Groups occurred on November 5, 2009 at Lake Junaluska. We had an open and spirited conversation around such topics as what unity is theologically and practically. We also heard from them about their pain in terms of actions at General Conference (again we find that there is deep pain within our church around our divisions). We began to think about some of the ways in which we can work together (and across differences) to holy conference and will follow up on some of these ideas.
Blessings on you!
Those representing the Bishops’ Unity Task Force were:
Sally Dyck, Chairperson (Minnesota)
Mike Lowry (Central Texas)
Minerva Carcano (Desert Southwest)
Peter Weaver (New England)
Daniel Arichea (The Philippines)
Joao Machado (Mozambique)
By Joseph Slife
A representative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) appeared at a news conference on November 16 to denounce an amendment—included in the House-passed health care bill—that would prohibit taxpayer-funded abortion.
Linda Bales Todd, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project at GBCS, was among several speakers at the National Press Club briefing, which was sponsored by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Todd said the House health bill’s “Stupak amendment” (named for its author, Rep. Bart Stupak—D-Michigan) “penalizes women and immigrants [who don’t have the] economic resources” to pay for an abortion.
The amendment, which passed the House by a vote of 240-194, would prohibit any public health insurance plan, or any private plans that receive federal subsidies, from covering abortion services. (GBCS later lobbied against the Senate version of the amendment, proposed by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), a member of Rockbrook United Methodist Church in Omaha. The Nelson amendment was defeated 54-45.)
At the November news conference, Todd criticized the Stupak amendment, which was supported strongly by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as being guided by a “narrow” religious viewpoint. “Measures like this effectively limit access and delivery of reproductive health care based on one, narrow religious doctrine,” she said.
Speaking at the same news conference, Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he would rather Congress fail to pass health care legislation than to pass a final bill that includes the Stupak language. “I believe it would be better to dump this entire bill than allow it to become law with these noxious provisions intact,” he said.
Other speakers at the news conference included Carlton W. Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Sammie Moshenberg of the National Council of Jewish Women, Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice, and Sandra Sorensen of the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
Earlier, the General Board of Church and Society issued a written statement about the House bill, noting that its opposition to the Stupak amendment is based on Resolution 2026 in the 2008 edition of the United Methodist Book of Resolutions. That awkwardly worded resolution—carrying the title “Responsible Parenthood”—says in part: “We therefore encourage our churches and common society to: …make abortions available to women without regard…to economic status.”
(Note: Apparently due to an editing error that has not been previously noticed, Resolution 2026 also includes extraneous words that make the passage actually read as follows: “…make abortions available to women without regard to economic standards of sound medical practice, and make abortions available to women without regard to economic status.” This error has appeared in The Book of Resolutions since at least 1996.)
A recent report by Liza Kittle of Renew, a network for evangelical women within the UM Church, noted that most items in the Book of Resolutions were written by personnel of various UM boards and agencies.
“The majority of the resolutions which ultimately are included in The Book of Resolutions, and which drive United Methodist policies and social action, originate from a handful of boards and agencies within the Church,” Kittle wrote. “These groups, in turn, use the resolutions to advocate political and social agendas…[that] do not reflect the diversity of beliefs present among United Methodist Church members.”
The Renew report notes that of the 352 resolutions in the current Book of Resolutions, more than two-thirds originated with the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Global Missions, or the Women’s Division.
Although resolutions are not binding the same way that language in The Book of Discipline is binding, items in The Book of Resolutions are often used to justify board and agency policy.
In many cases, as noted above, boards and agencies actually write the resolutions, which are then passed at the General Conference with no debate—either due to time pressure or because the items are bundled together with other unrelated matters as part of a “consent calendar” (an omnibus piece of legislation intended for quick passage on a single vote). Once passed by the General Conference, the resolutions are then used to authorize the policies and actions of the boards and agencies that wrote the resolutions in the first place.
Most of the language of the current Resolution 2026 dates to the 1976 General Conference. Delegates, facing heavy time pressure on the final day of the 1976 conference, passed the Responsible Parenthood resolution, authored by the Women’s Division, with no debate. The resolution has stayed largely intact since then.
The matter came to the floor of the conference on May 7, 1976—the last day of the week-and-a-half-long gathering. The Responsible Parenthood resolution was only one section of a larger eight-section, 6,500-word omnibus resolution on “Health, Welfare, and Human Development.” The full resolution filled more than 16 pages in the Journal of the 1976 General Conference.
Each of the eight sections was to be presented separately for debate and then a separtate vote. However, Section IV (the section on health care) engendered so much discussion that, with time running short, Sections V, VI, VII, and VIII—which included the Responsible Parenthood section—were never debated.
The 1976 Responsible Parenthood resolution was amended slightly in 1996 (apparently this is when the editing error mentioned above was introduced) and the item was readopted—again without floor debate. The resolution was bundled with several unrelated items on Consent Calendar B06 and was passed on April 26, 1996.
In 2004, the Women’s Division submitted a petition asking for readoption of the Responsible Parenthood resolution. Again, there was no floor debate. The matter was added to Consent Calendar B04 and was passed.
Two slight changes were made to Responsible Parenthood at last year’s General Conference, and the resolution was again readopted, via Consent Calendar B04, on April 30, 2008.
Although the basic language of Resolution 2026 dates to 1976, the United Methodist Church has turned in a decidedly pro-life direction in the years since then. The 2008 General Conference, for example, passed legislation acknowledging “the sanctity of unborn human life” and noting that United Methodists are bound to “respect the sacredness of life and well-being of [both] the mother and the unborn child.”
It remains to be seen whether delegates to the 2012 General Conference will insist on a full floor debate regarding the future of the “Responsible Parenthood” resolution, as well as other resolutions that have never received a full airing at any General Conference but are nonetheless guiding board and agency policies.
Joseph Slife is a certified lay speaker in the North Georgia Annual Conference and an adjunct instructor in the Department of Communication at Georgia’s Emmanuel College. He blogs at www.MethodistThinker.com.
By Liza Kittle
Preparing for a new year of ministry at Renew, I have been pondering “big picture” things. One of the challenges of leading Renew is striking a balance between engaging the spiritual battles of the United Methodist Church and promoting the formation of alternative women’s ministries. Both are important.
Although God has clearly shown Renew that building transforming women’s ministries is our primary focus, we must continue to be involved in reform and renewal of the church. We persevere, knowing that our cause is just, our calling secure, and our commitment steadfast.
Our cause is just. It involves upholding scriptural Christianity and bringing spiritual vitality to our troubled denomination. It means upholding our Book of Discipline and insisting our appointed leaders enforce it. It means standing for biblical truth in the Christian faith and against pressures to abandon or alter it. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to do a “new thing” in our midst.
One doesn’t have to look far to see where the church is growing—in Africa, where the Word of God is preached, scriptural Christianity is upheld, and lives are being transformed. Growing and healthy churches in the United States are also Christ-centered, committed to scriptural integrity, and focused on evangelistic mission outreach. These churches advocate a proper balance between personal and social holiness, key tenets of Wesleyan theology.
Most of our growing, vital churches also have alternative women’s programs. Renew remains committed to encouraging our pastors, bishops, and the General Conference to recognize and support other women’s ministries within the church. Less that 15 percent of the women in the UM Church participate in United Methodist Women, the only officially sanctioned women’s ministry in the church. The time is now for our church to embrace variety in women’s ministry programs—especially in a denomination that celebrates diversity and open-mindedness.
Our calling is secure in the hands God. Renewal and reform within the UM Church is not an easy task. Those called to this task are deeply passionate about the future of our denomination. God has given encouraging signs of affirmation to this calling over the past year. Constitutional changes that would have separated the U.S. and Central conferences were soundly defeated in annual conferences. Changes that would have removed pastoral authority regarding readiness for membership were also defeated.
Many in the church believe these amendments were initiated by liberal groups who continue to promote the acceptance of homosexuality practice. By removing any barrier to church membership and silencing the voice of African delegates, who tend to be theologically orthodox, these groups would have greater success in changing our stance on this issue. By 2012, it is predicted that 30 percent of the delegates at General Conference will be from Africa. (In 2004, the African delegation made up 10 percent of total delegates in 2004 and 20 percent in 2008.) The votes of our African brothers and sisters are critical for maintaining the historic doctrines of Methodism.
Our commitment is steadfast. I have seen firsthand the devotion of clergy and laity called to this noble endeavor of reform and renewal in the UM Church. Renew was privileged to participate in a dialogue between renewal leaders and the Council of Bishops’ Unity Task Force in November 2009 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. (see page 7). I witnessed servants of the Lord speaking up for biblical truth and denominational integrity with humility and grace.
As a church, I encourage you to participate in this movement through several means. One is through prayer—for our church, bishops, and leaders. Another is through knowledge and participation. Stay informed about the issues facing the church, engage in dialogue with church leaders, and be able to clearly articulate your Christian beliefs.
And, very importantly, support renewal groups through generous regular giving. It takes tremendous financial resources to engage our brothers and sisters in Africa, send a renewal coalition to General Conference, communicate with constituents, speak to congregations and groups, and provide resources for the church. There is no greater cause than helping maintain the scriptural integrity and future growth of the United Methodist Church.
For the ministry of Renew—holding workshops, producing Christ-centered materials, planning leadership conferences, expanding our organization, communicating with our network, and participating in renewal efforts—your giving is also essential.
I pray that everyone will join this just cause, seek God’s guidance about your own calling, and be steadfastly committed to reform and renewal. Your participation will bring honor and glory to God. Won’t you partner with us in this just and noble cause? I pray that you will.
Liza Kittle is the President of the Renew Network (www.renewnetwork.org ), P.O. Box 16055, Augusta, GA 30919; telephone: 706-364-0166.