More thoughts from Annual Conferences all over the country, as well as similar gatherings of other denominations. Here are the questions I said I'd use to start each of these posts:
"4 questions to cultivate dreaming: What is our purpose? Who do we
serve? What are our core values? Who is good at what? #impact2014
#ntc2014" (tweeted by Adam Young)
First off, thoughts from Rev. Lillian Daniel's sermon at the New England Annual Conference remembrance and memorial service, and then some related notes from other parts of NEAC, from the conference of the Massachusetts United Church of Christ, and from Bishop Hayes at the Oklahoma AC.
"Memorial and grieving...is one of the things the church does well." - Rev. Lillian Daniel #neumc14 (tweeted by Anne Hillman)
"It's the fallacy of the world that teaches that we do it [discernment] all by yourself." -Rev Lillian Daniel (tweeted by Becca Girrell)
"You don't have to do it all...and love covers a multitude of things." - Lillian Daniel #neumc14 (tweeted by Melissa Yosua-Davis)
"Grief is the cost of loving well. And love makes up for almost anything." Rev. Daniel (modified tweet from Laura Everett)
These four quotes together are a decent summary of Rev. Daniel's sermon, and there's a certain beauty about them that I love. I agree that memorial is something the church does well; in a way, it is one of the things on which the church is built. Think of communion. As a Methodist, I don't believe that communion is only a memorial because I do believe in the presence of Christ in the elements, but that doesn't discount the extent to which it is a memorial act. "Do this in remembrance of me." And communion is a sacrament. It unites us as a global body of Christ, and it is our sustenance as the body. With communion as a central practice, the church needs to do memorial well, and it succeeds. Thanks be to God.
But that doesn't mean we like to grieve. As individuals - sometimes even as the church - it is too easy to try to lock grief away. But grief results from love, and love is the greatest and most important commandment.
I was thinking about the memorial service mainly in terms of the churches and ministries that were closing/discontinuing, since, as I mentioned last post, that's a situation I've considered a lot over the past year. It's from that perspective that I appreciate the comments on discernment. Considering a future that could take any number of shapes is really, really scary, and it felt like such a huge responsibility. I remember being completely shocked and unsure how to respond when I was asked to be on the strategic team. But we find comfort in the fact that we don't have to do discernment on our own. Faith is corporate and involves relationships with each other and God, and discernment is part of faith. The existence of relationships and any united body implies bonds of love - love among people, love among communities, love between God and God's people. That love means we don't have to do discernment - or grief - on our own. God will guide us, and we can guide each other, and the burden will never be too heavy for us to bear as the body of Christ.
4 churches closed. Bishop Hayes: "They have turned death into resurrection by giving of themselves to other causes." #okumc (I can't find this tweet to cite it! If you know where it's from, please let me know!)
"The Holy Spirit is always, always, always changing us. Thank God, because we're always in need of change." Rev. Lillian Daniel
The Church IS going to change because it's about following Jesus rather than maintaining an institution. - Rev. Daniel #neumc14 (tweeted by Dan Randall)
"The ministry of Jesus is a ministry of failure out of which God brings God's form of prosperity." #macucc2014 (tweeted by Mass Conference UCC)
Change is okay. Change is necessary. Christ overcame death to give us life, and so we follow God's call to the lives we should lead. When something comes to an end, when it feels like death, God is shaping new life.
@JimAntal to #macucc2014: I believe this is how the future is written- by imagining new possibilities and acting on them as if it's inevitable (tweeted by Laura Everett)
"Staying the same is no longer an option. We must be bound with our
neighbors. We belong to each other." @JimAntal to #macucc2014 (tweeted by Laura Everett)
@JimAntal #macucc2014: work w/ your neighbors, #Episcopalians, #Lutherans, #Methodists. We have so much in common. We aren't that different. (tweeted by Laura Everett)
We are not alone, and we are also not just a single congregation, a single conference, a single denomination. We are a community. We need each other, and we belong to each other. In the last post I quoted Bishop Devadhar: "The mission has a Church." We, all together, are the Church of God's mission. We may have different roles in Christ's body - in fact, we must - and different beliefs, but we are one body with a common, unifying purpose as a result of our belief in the LORD.
I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. - Isaiah 42:16
Hope. We're not alone, and no matter what happens, there is hope. Also, speaking of discernment...:
"Let John Wesley keep you in balance - scripture, tradition, experience, reason. If you leave off one or overemphasize one, you'll fall off the balance beam." (Said at NEAC, and I didn't catch by whom. Sorry!)
I'm a huge fan of the Wesleyan quadrilateral as a tool for discernment, and after a long time of not being entirely satisfied with the STER order, I've come to a place where I believe I am. That process mainly involved reading scripture and reconsidering what I mean by tradition; I used to favor experience and reason very strongly. I wasn't well-versed enough in scripture (and I still have so much room for growth in that respect), and I viewed tradition as something stuffy and stuck. When I realized that tradition means, at least in part, the hymns, the creeds, the liturgy for baptism and communion, the liturgical year, all these things that I loved? Turns out I really value tradition. If anything, I have to be careful now that I don't place tradition above scripture. Realizing how much liturgy and hymnody is scripturally based has been helpful for that.
I know I'm reading/listening to the conference material with an eye to how I've grown recently, but it's remarkable to me that there truly is a lot that is resonating with me about change, the future, discernment, and ecumenicism (which is related to the Christian fellowship, and I know I've been vague on the changes there). In my Bible study this morning, one of the questions we discussed was, "What is your reason for the hope that you have?" Right now, for me, the answer is that I can hear God speaking and see God working, and that growth is my hope.