by Mary Brooke Casad
The people of The United Methodist Church are in the midst of crafting a pivotal stanza that will shape the future of our denomination.
We are seeking to write a verse that is grand in vision and unifying in power. One that will help us fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. One that will help us fully align with and reflect God’s work in the world.
Several groups mandated by the 2008 General Conference or convened by agencies have been studying different aspects of church life. This fall, those groups are bringing their mid-quadrennium findings to the Connectional Table. The groups submitting reports include the Call to Action Steering Committee, the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church, the Sustainability Advisory Group, the Church Systems Task Force, the Apportionment Structure Study Group, the Committee to Study the Ministry, the Committee on Faith and Order, the Council of Bishops Task Force on Theological Education and Leadership Formation and the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.
The role of the Connectional Table in the coming months will be to help find the commonalities in all of their work. These efforts will be in collaboration with the Council of Bishops. It is likely the common or corresponding themes will become a central part of the discussions at General Conference in 2012.
The value of the Connectional Table will be to bring together ideas from each report for evaluation and discussion. Recommendations span a wide range of topics, from changing the clergy appointment system to establishing a global Book of Discipline to revamping our system of connectional giving. Common to all is a faith-filled hope to improve and reorder the life of the Church to meet the needs of our changing world. The Connectional Table will seek to identify common themes and points of convergence within these multi-faceted proposals.
The current process of collaboration is building on work that began after the 2004 General Conference. At that time, it was clear the denomination needed to make adjustments to remain relevant in a world that was changing daily.
From the Council of Bishops and the Table of General Secretaries, to annual conferences and local churches, leaders were working to address a number of factors such as declining membership, rising health care costs and improving efficiencies across the life of the church. Out of this body of work emerged the Four Areas of Focus: creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations; developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; engaging in ministry with the poor; and combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally. Major strides have already been made in these areas.
The efforts made last quadrennium were also about framing a vision of hope and unity. The leadership for General Conference messaging in 2008 set out two priorities: 1) build unity at General Conference and 2) create hope for the future of The United Methodist Church. These priorities became the overarching theme woven through each presentation. A vision was cast with high expectations that would hold all of us accountable to make changes.
This quadrennium has been about discernment. In the short time since General Conference 2008, a lot of change has already taken place. Many difficult conversations and evaluations have been conducted. The new verse being crafted now, in this great concerto of The United Methodist Church, must be reflective of this era of change. The words that will define this time should express momentum, accountability, vision and hope. It is an exciting time to be a part of a people who are working so hard to fulfill Christ's calling around the world.
As we move towards General Conference, we want input from across the denomination on the study findings. As always, the Connectional Table invites you to take part in this process to help us craft the very best vision for our Church and write a new verse in our timeless song.