REPORT OF THE NE ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH JUNE 6-9, 2012
Prayer: O God, Open our minds to hear this news and our hearts to find ourselves in it. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen
Every year the Methodist Church of New England, comprising all the congregations in six states, convenes to conduct the business of the church. Its mission is “to equip, connect, and support local, regional and global ministries to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and to serve all in his name.”
So a great deal of business was conducted by Bishop Peter Weaver. We voted on officers, budgets, mission shares, church closures, among other issues. We worshiped, we sang (hymns from our hymnal I had never heard), we attended workshops, we witnessed the ordination and commissioning of clergy, and we talked. We visited displays by many organizations, mostly church-related, and spent time in Cokesbury’s large bookstore. We ate well, and I hope others slept as well as I did after each long day.
I came away from the Conference with a great deal to think about. Much of it stemmed from the report of the New England delegates to the General Conference of the Methodist Church. Every four years this annual conference is held, this year in Tampa. So I went to a packed workshop on Introduction to United Methodist Social Principles to hear the delegates report on the General Conference.
More than 2000 proposals were placed before the general conference. Most of them died in committee and never reached the floor for a vote. To quote from the NE Delegations “Reflections:”
“If we were depending on getting our legislative house in order, we failed to do so. If we were hoping that instituting strong centralized leadership would be the panacea, all the plans went up in smoke. If we thought a common theological perspective, or a unified worldview, or new language around inclusion would rescue us—none of these were anywhere to be seen.”
The delegates realized that the Methodist church is too big and too diverse to have a common center. They believe that the structure of the church does not contribute to its vitality. That vitality they define here, “Our strength and out unity lie in our identity as a spiritual movement, grounded in the grace of God and linked by common practices of personal and social holiness. Nothing more, nothing less.”
I have a copy of their Reflections here for anyone to read. What they were saying is that we need to reimagiine what our church is to keep it vital.
I found this idea running through many of the talks, from the Bishop to lay speakers. The Bishop showed five short films of vital churches in New England. After each film he asked,” What is the Holy Spirit saying to me about my congregation?” and “what is the Holy Spirit saying to me about my leadership?” These were uncomfortable questions, but one we must all ask ourselves.
In a workshop on congregational Development I found some suggestions, some of which are relevant to the Chilmark Church. The minister leading the group said the church had become counter cultural. It’s no longer cool to attend church. There is competition for attention on Sunday and throughout the week. To many the perception of church is a fist. He proposed ways of opening that fist, of changing people’s perceptions.
- Within the church we should think of the church as God’s rescue plan, the “Light of the World.” The church was created to represent God in the world. We as individuals are part of the rescue plan.
- Marketing the Church. Matt. 28: 19 Personal newsletter from the Pastor, Sermon notes. (both of the above mailed to parishioners or handed out s]at service – and handed on.) Bookmarks, flyers, general and specific, a website, presence in Facebook, community participation (parades,etc)
- Worship Experience. Must be meaningful and relevant, a balance between traditional and contemporary elements. Children’s message. Introit as transition from business to worhsip. Sermon uses attention getter.
- Doing Church differently, Bread of life Sunday, on line Study blog fee NT and a 90 day challenge to read it, brain-boarding local needs with sticky notes. Post and do 2 or 3 of them.
- Prayer and elbow grease. What kind of church are you supposed to be? Hebrews 12:1,2a
This was one vision, but with many ideas we could work from.
Majority of churches are consumers of religion, rather than incarnate. Incarnate here means to realize in actions what we are. It means we love God,love others, and then help others to grow in their faith. It means to ask what God wants of you, and then listen. The traditional consumer form is that of a minister preaching and others following, a passive relationship to God.
There was so much more I learned in the few days at the New England conference. I hope to share some more specifics later in the year.
We had a service of memory for the ministers we lost during the past year, including Robert Brightman, who often worshiped with us.
We said goodbye to Bishop Peter Weaver for his eight years of dedicated service to our church. We had a service of farewell, including a roasting, followed by a Hootnanny with a Falmouth music group.
It was an inspiring few days. I hope some of you will consider going next year.