Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thoughts from Annual Conferences, Part 3

Here's the third and final part of my thoughts based on quotes from Annual Conferences over the past few weeks. This post focuses a lot on community, diversity, and inclusivity. And with that, here are the guiding questions I've been considering:

"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)

I'm going to start this with something about which my mother feels very strongly because on this, she has passed her conviction onto me:

Youth and young persons are not the future of the church! We are the church, we are here now! #gpumc - Wesley Gately
The youth is not the future, we are the church of now! #AC2014 #Okumc (tweeted by Ismael Carrillo)
I'm so proud of the youth delegates you all worked hard all night! #KingdomBuilding #okumc #ac2014 (tweeted by Jimmie Brandon)
Rev LD: Youth are not the future of the church - they are the present. #neumc14 (tweeted by John Chickering)
"Friendly reminder to #neumc14 that younger delegates are delegates too. Even if they look very young. Don't tell them they're not adults." - Patsy Frey-Davis

Those five tweets came from three different conferences. This is not a problem at a single church or in a single place; it's a global issue. Youth and young adults above confirmation age are full members of the church and must be treated as such. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!'" (1 Cor. 12:21, NIV) Youth and young adults are part of the church, and there are privileges and responsibilities that come along with that. When the church gives them privileges and no responsibilities, responsibilities and no privileges, or just ignores them altogether, the church is cutting off parts of its body. Young people have a lot to contribute; let us be involved.  We are part of the future, but calling us the future of the church limits the expectations for us and the opportunities given to us. Don't relegate us to the future. We are here now, we are members now, and we are the church now.

Here's an example of what I mean about young people and responsibilities. It's a small example, but it's one that I've found surprisingly common: if a church sends commitment cards to each member during a stewardship campaign, there is no excuse to not send them to confirmed youth. We can't say that confirmation is the mark of full membership and then treat it like it's not, and we can't ignore an important segment of the church. It's hard to do a good job of answering the questions to cultivate dreaming until we recognize everyone who is part of the 'we' of those questions.

I'm going to say even more, actually: children are the present of the church, too. I mentioned responsibilities and privileges above, and those are different for children than they are for adults, but children are still here and can contribute to the ministry of the church in the present. And upon their confirmation, we should expect them to behave as full members of the body who have professed that they will "be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries" and "faithfully participate in [the church]'s ministries by their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness."

(This discussion is from a UM point of view, but the principle applies in all churches. Value your young people.) 

Going from there to a bunch of thoughts about community, unity, and diversity...

"Unity in the church does not require uniformity." - Bishop John Schol #gnjac2014 (another lost tweet! If you find it, please let me know!)
"We recognize our individual calls and our corporate call as United Methodist Christians to serve God, each other, and the world." -Bishop Devadhar
"At the heart of calling is community." -Lillian Daniel
"We should learn to love our community and see its gifts for what they are" #laityaddress #neumc14
(laity address given by Courtney Tabor-Abbott, tweeted by @Anniemac24)
"Ask each other what your gifts are, but more importantly, tell each other. You are the body of Christ. You do not have to do it all." -Rev. Daniel

We should have a unified purpose and mission; we should stand together. That does not necessarily mean that we have to believe the same things, look the same, or act the same, and the church could not exist if everyone served in the same ways. We do each have individual calls. I talked about discernment in the last post, but this comes back to that. Discernment is hard. It has to involve so much conversation with God, but I really love what Rev. Daniel says here: "At the heart of calling is community."

Our faith is not just personal but corporate, and so even our individual calls are intrinsically tied to our community. The community as a whole has gifts, and the individuals within it have gifts, and with love for each other, we can help each other see what our gifts and calls are. We don't have to do this alone. We should love each other as we are, and through that love, we should be honest with each other about our corporate gifts and calls as well as the individual ones. I really like what Rev. Daniel says about asking and telling each other what our gifts are. A comment, a note, a conversation over coffee - it can make a huge difference in someone's life and view of his/her gifts and calling.

To pull all of this together:

Seeing not where people need fixing, but where they need loving. #neumc14 (said by Courtney Tabor-Abbott, tweeted by Melissa Yosua-Davis)
"You and I don't get to decide where God is. " Bishop Harvey #flac2014 (tweeted by Danny Bennett)

(talking about God using us) "If you'll just stand up, I will speak.... If you will just hang in there and be faithful to me, I will blow your mind." Rev Jasmine Smothers, OKUMC

"I have seen God in the little children. I have seen God in the hospital hallways. I have seen God in the hospice rooms. I have seen God in the preaching pulpit. I have seen God in the trustee board rooms. I have seen God even at Annual Conference. I have seen the LORD." Rev Jasmine Smothers, OKUMC

God can work through any of us. God is all around us, working through all of us. We each have a call. If we just follow God's call, God will do amazing things. We don't have to be afraid. God is working. For that to happen, we have to let each other hear God's call. We don't get to decide that someone is too young or too young or can't see well enough to serve the church; we don't get to put any such limits on who can serve the church. God chooses us. God calls us. We love each other, respond to God's call, and serve faithfully.

"We can not become the face of Jesus to our neighbors until we acknowledge the face of Jesus in them" Bishop Devadhar #neumc14 (tweeted by Good Shepherd UMC)

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