Working hard to be better

Jun 17, 2022

By Carolyn Moore

June 17, 2022

Back before our denomination was actively pursuing the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, a clergyman emailed asking me to share honestly about my experience as a woman connected with the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). His tone was kind and pastoral, but I sensed that underneath, he really expected me to tell him that the public face and private reality of the WCA are two different things – and that I don’t sense the guys in leadership at the WCA really respect or listen to me.

This ordained colleague went on to share his concern for the tone of things, and to say he isn’t convinced by the rhetoric that the WCA is loving and compassionate. He asked about race, and about young people. He was most definitely a skeptic. It seems to be a common feeling among those who know more about what they don’t want than what they do.

The night this gentlemen wrote, I was in one of those places: tired, overworked, under-compassionate. Probably I’d had one too many of these conversations that I just don’t understand, so I wrote the guy back, and I want to share with you what I said to him for no other reason than I was sharing as honestly as I could. What follows is some of what I wrote:

“Here’s what I know: You’ve joined the whitest denomination in the country. Literally – except for the post-separation ELCA – the UM Church is the whitest, least diverse of all mainline denominations. We are more monochromatic than the African Methodist Episcopal Church! I’ll let you look up the Barna study on this.

“Stunning, isn’t it? So, to ask a renewal movement within the whitest denomination to somehow achieve greater diversity than the group it is trying to renew is a bit unrealistic. We are, well, us. That’s the pool we’ve been drawing from as we’ve begun this renewal movement. Even so, our council has eight African or African-American members, and five additional nationalities represented. We have worked hard to be better at this than the denomination we serve.

“You’ve also joined a denomination that in our country is notably progressive. The female clergy in the UM Church are by and large radically progressive. In my conference, for example, I can count three – only three – conservative women pastors. It’s lonely over here in Georgia. To ask a renewal movement within that organization to somehow produce a plethora of conservative women pastors who are ready and able to step up and lead is also rather unrealistic. Even so, ten of our council members are women. We have worked hard to be better at this than the denomination we serve.

“You’ve also joined a denomination of old people. I don’t know what your annual conference looks like, but mine is gray. Incredibly gray (as am I). To ask a renewal movement within that organization to somehow produce a whole lot of young conservatives who are bold enough to lead publicly – in other words, not afraid of losing their ordination so soon after getting it – is asking a lot. Even so, we have young adults on our council, but let me speak closer to home. On my own staff, four of our six are under forty and the average age in my church is 35. We are working hard to be better at this than the denomination we serve.

“Our whole effort is aimed at getting out from under a system that has produced an unhealthy culture with an entitlement mindset. The UM Church has produced a culture more concerned about percentages than holiness, and ironically that emphasis has only backfired. Our progressive UM Church is remarkably white and aging, with a terrible track record in its treatment of women.

“Can I say this to you as a colleague? I deeply hope as you make your choices that you personally invest yourself in the reclamation of solid Wesleyan theology and in the formation of a movement that is earnestly going after Kingdom values. Not quotas, but Kingdom. That’s what your life ought to point toward. That’s the kind of legacy worth leaving. Don’t let the culture define your terms, because what the culture has done has not worked.

“So now that I’ve preached a little, let me share my experience: I have served in the UM Church for 23 years and for much of that time have been largely anonymous in my conference. I’ve never been elected as a delegate and never served on a conference Board. That has been my experience in the UM Church.

“Meanwhile, my place in the WCA has been a source of great encouragement. I was among the first elected to the WCA council when it was formed in a room in Houston. I was elected vice-chair unanimously, and chair, surprisingly.

“Of all I’ve said, this to me is most important: The people with whom I’ve worked in the WCA have spiritual, emotional, and personal integrity. I have never once been in a meeting – of any sort, not public, private, or one-on-one – where women were disparaged, where minorities were discouraged, where same-sex attraction was spoken of in any kind of uncharitable way, where language was crude, where spirits were not humble. Never once. If it has happened, I haven’t been there. I have been unreservedly encouraged, and have only seen others encouraged. We’ve discussed at length how best to grow and encourage ethnic and minority groups in the next Methodism. We want whatever it takes to see Revelation 7:9 – (“there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”) – become a reality.

“The fact is, there are very few certainties in this current crisis except one: we will change. We have changed, are changing, will change. I hope we won’t pick one another apart on the way to this new thing God is trying to birth out of our ashes.

“I hope something here has helped. It comes with my deep prayer that Deep will call to deep in your discerning prayers and give you direction. I commend the WCA to you. I am completely committed to this movement because I believe we who are in it are completely committed to welcoming and advancing the Kingdom of God.”

Carolyn Moore is the founding and lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia. She is the chair of the Wesleyan Covenant Association Council. She is an author and blogs at artofholiness.com. Image: Shutterstock. 

 

 

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