Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Call to Action: Not Just About the Legislation

“The most important changes will not result from legislative action but require different actions and patterns of leadership by bishops, clergy and laity in their conferences.  These changes must be grounded deeply in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting.”

                       For the Sake of a New World, We See a New Church
                                           Council of Bishops, November 1, 2011

For months, leaders supportive of the Call to Action have said “It’s not just about the legislation.”  But for two weeks at General Conference, it WAS about the legislation, primarily Plan UMC.
While Plan UMC was a substitute for the Connectional Table’s original legislation, it did maintain a strong governance board and executive general secretary to give oversight to the work of the general agencies. This was in keeping with the Call to Action recommendation to “consolidate program and administrative agencies, align their work and resources with the priorities of the Church and the decade-long commitment to build vital congregations.”

Plan UMC passed by a vote of 567 to 384, a 60% majority. There’s no question that Judicial Council Decision 1210 came as a disappointing blow, proclaiming Plan UMC unconstitutional. 

But another expressed desire of Call to Action supporters was to at least come away from General Conference with some movement toward the directions proposed by the Interim Operations Team.  So did we?

The Call to Action lifted up the need for recruitment and training of young clergy, and recommended a shift in our resources to support this action.  Result at General Conference: Delegates approved two new line items in the World Service Fund, establishing a new $5 million fund for theological education in central conferences and allocating $7 million to recruit and train young clergy in the United States.

Another goal of the Call to Action was to support legislation proposed by the Ministry Study Commission regarding guaranteed appointments.  This was passed, providing for the following actions:

  • Bishops and cabinets will be allowed to give elders less than full-time appointment.
  • With approval of their cabinets, boards of ordained ministry and annual conference’s executive session, bishops and their cabinets could put elders on unpaid transitional leave up to 24 months. Clergy on transitional leave would be able to participate in their conference health program through their own contributions. 
  • Each annual conference is asked to name a task force to develop a list of criteria to guide the cabinets and bishops as they make missional appointments. 
  • The cabinets shall report to the executive committees of boards of ordained ministry the number of clergy without full-time appointments and their age, gender and ethnicity.Cabinets will also report their learning as appointment making is conducted in this new manner.
Reform of the Council of Bishops was another recommendation highlighted in the Call to Action. While the COB’s own legislation to allow for a full-time president received 55% of the vote, but not the required two-thirds for the constitutional amendment, the Council of Bishops made an important decision in their meeting preceding General Conference. Retired bishops will now meet with the COB only once a year; active bishops will focus on the adaptive challenge at their spring meeting.

And what about the Adaptive Challenge “to redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”  Congregations across the world were invited to set goals for the 2013-16 quadrennium. Seventy-three percent of our congregations submitted goals, committing to engage 3.8 million disciples in mission, give $3.6 billion to mission, and double the number of vital congregations.

Tiny steps towards the Call to Action proposals?  Perhaps. But for me they stand as signs of hope that move us toward a new church, for the sake of a new world.
The 2012 General Conference proved more than ever that “important changes will not result from legislative actions.” Beyond the hopes many of us had for creating significant change in how we do business and order our lives together are many complex, systemic issues which have caused deep divisions.

May we enter into a season of prayer, discernment and healing as we seek God’s leading into a future with hope. And that hope is built on nothing less than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Finding True North

Jesus said to his disciples, “let us sail across the lake” (Luke 8:22). And he and his disciples set sail into the wind and the waves.

This is where we find our beloved United Methodist Church.  We are launching into strong head winds and challenging waters.  Yet, we have a divine vision and a true north that I believe will lead us safely to a new harbor.  As Bishop John Schol shared with us on Monday night, no matter what the legislative decisions made by the 2012 General Conference, change and transformation is already underway. 

At this General Conference, 72 United Methodist conferences representing 27,000 congregations around the world set discipleship goals in five key areas:
  1. Make new disciples
  2. Praise God in worship
  3. Grow through small groups
  4. Engage in mission in our communities and around the world
  5. Give generously to mission
These commitments represent our future. In four years, these goals translate into an increase in worship attendance to 3.6 million people; nearly 800,000 new disciples; 443,952 small groups; engaging 806,770 disciples in mission teams; giving $3.6 billion to the missional needs in our communities and around the world; and we will double the number of vital congregations.

Imagine what would happen across the church if we got 100% participation in the goal setting.  These disciple-making congregations are God's instruments of transformation in the church and world! Please visit www.umvitalcongregations.org to learn more about this effort.

Bishop John Schol and the Rev. Amy Valdez Barker will be speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. in the General Conference Press Room to further discuss the statistics and the goals of the Vital Congregations Initiative. (The GC Press Room is open to credentialed media representatives only.)