Friday, June 13, 2014

Thoughts from Annual Conferences, Part I

I follow a lot of feeds related to the United Methodist church on Twitter, so I've seen tweets from a variety of Annual Conferences. The Northeast Annual Conference - my conference for the past fourteen months - is this weekend, and I've been watching the live feed. I've also been watching videos from the Oklahoma Annual Conference (my conference for over fifteen years).

Through all of this, I've gathered a bunch of quotes on which I want to comment, and this will probably take multiple posts. I'm going to start off every post with this, which I love:

"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" - Adam Young

My church has been having a discussion for nearly a year now about how we want to be church and particularly about whether it is viable to stay in our building. I was on the strategic team that met throughout the year to discuss the options and to organize conversations in the congregation. We had a church service/meeting in February, and the conclusion reached at that meeting was that we want to explore how to be church without our current building. There are a lot of possibilities, and there's a lot of hope, but it's still a bit scary.

I was reading through the NEUMC Annual Conference booklet, and I read the handful of pages on dissociation of congregations within the conference. They were all different in some ways but similar in others, and it's very likely that whatever we do is going to end up as such a report in the next couple of years. Maybe not; I haven't read the Discipline closely enough to know what would happen in various cases, honestly. We're not to that point yet. But I kept thinking, "That could be us." Again, sort of scary. At the same time, though, the variety in how the congregations were responding was really encouraging. We can take our own path, following God. There isn't one way.

They recognized these congregations at the memorial service, which surprised and pleased me. I'll talk more about that service in a different post, though. Now I want to bring in quotes from the rest of NEUMC14:

"We need to acknowledge that saving the physical building of a church is not really what Jesus called us to do" #neumc14 (from the strategic team, I believe, and tweeted by @Anniemac24)

 "Church means people of God...The goal of the church is not to maintain an institution or a building." -Bishop Devadhar

Go back to the questions at the top. What is our purpose? Who do we serve? What are our core values? Who is good at what? The answers to those play into what the goal of the church is, into what Jesus is calling us to do. Maintaining an institution or a building, just to do so, is not the goal. As the strategic team, we were nervous that people were very attached to the building when we thought that the best options involved leaving the building. Our nervousness was unfounded; our congregation loves the building, but we love our community more.

We can't completely dismiss the building, though, because we are not its sole occupants. People who run the nursery school in the basement were at the all church meeting. We've been talking a lot with the Korean Methodist Church who meets in the building as well. As community we've decided that the building is a stumbling block, but there are other ways that could have turned out - if we'd decided that the nursery school, though not directly affiliated with us, was such an important ministry that we couldn't sell the building, for example. I don't know. That's not what happened. But I don't think we should be too dismissive in general of the physical space because there are blessings that come from that space.

I think we as a community made the right decision to look at the possibilities of how to go on without the current church building, but like I said before, every congregation has its own path. I think there are very few general principles related to this sort of thing, except this:

"God is love. All the rest is commentary." #Methodist preacher Steve Garnaas-Holmes #neumc14 (tweeted by Laura Everett)

God is love, and church means people of God. So first, wee are people of love. Whatever decision we make needs to be God-guided, and that means it needs to be love-guided. Second, we are God's people, and because God is love, that means God loves us. God loves us, and so we are never alone. We do not have to make this decision alone.

"We are not alone. We live in God's world." (affirmation of the United Church of Canada)

"It's the fallacy of the world that teaches that we do it [discernment] all by yourself." -Rev Lillian Daniel (tweeted by Becca Girrell)

We don't have to do this on our own. God has a plan (Jeremiah 29:11), and God will guide us on the path God has created for us (Isaiah 30:21). We have a future full of hope and new life, life in abundance.

"We are in the wilderness, but we are also on a pilgrimage." - Bishop Devadhar #neumc14 (tweeted by Annie Hillman)

There is a destination. We don't know what it is, but God does.

We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are brothers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

- "The Servant Song"

"Maybe God is breaking the walls of the Church so that we can actually welcome the broken." Steve Garnaas-Holmes #neumc14 (tweeted by Laura Everett)

 "It is not that the church has a mission, the mission has a church." #neumc14 (said by Bishop Devadhar, tweeted by Leigh Dry)

 "Show up. Pay attention. Cooperate with God. Release the outcome." Bishop Suda [Devadhar] quoting Elaine Heath and Larry Duggins #neumc14
(Tweeted by Dan Randall)

'This is the day of moving in. Time to unload the Penske truck. This is the day of moving in. Our God is making all things new.' #okumc
(Tweeted by @ok_umc)

Our pastor has repeated this phrase all year: "God is doing a new thing." I believe it. God is making all things news. God is creating new and right spirits within us. God is directing us along a new path, taking us on a new journey. God is doing a new thing in our individual lives, in the life of our congregation, our conference, our denomination, our world. But God has a plan for us, and we just have to show up, listen, pay attention, and cooperate with God. We feel broken, but that brokenness serves a purpose. In that brokenness is hope. There is a mission, and the mission has a church.

What is our purpose? Who do we serve? What are our core values? Who is good at what?

Our God is making all things new.
We are not alone.

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