When I was elected chair of the Commission on General Conference, I realized that at this time in the church, things would not be “business as usual.” I was somewhat overwhelmed, but I prayed that I would be of use as we sought to go where God was already leading the church. I believe that those of us who are thinking about and longing for God’s direction, are here “for such a time as this.” It has been my privilege to sit at several different tables engaged in multiple conversations about how the General Conference can help us understand what it means to be a World Wide Church – what we should embrace in our current way of doing things and what needs to change.
I am a UMC lifer – I was baptized as an infant in a Methodist Church by my grandfather who was a Methodist pastor. I went through confirmation in the brand new UNITED Methodist Church and I stood before my patient and supportive congregation as they heard me declare my faith in Jesus Christ. I went to church camp, where I made crosses of nails, crosses of plastic beads, crosses of macramé thread and cross bookends. I went to conference youth events where I learned new songs that they didn’t yet sing in my congregation, made best friends and had romances – one of which eventually led to my marriage. I am grateful for my idyllic UMC background; I also realize that my experience was highly influenced by where I lived and the culture that dominates that region.
It wasn’t until college that I was even asked the question, “Why are you a United Methodist?” So I began thinking about it, and questioning whether it actually made a difference. I was challenged to think in a UMC campus ministry bible study after I had been told by a Non-UM friend that I “thought too much to be a Christian.” I discovered that as United Methodist Christians we combine a warm-hearted faith with rigorous intellectual engagement. I believe that my experience of the United Methodist faith, in college and the years since, awakened me to a world where God was active in leading me into a deeper faith and ministry as a lay person.
So, now what does it mean to be a United Methodist Christian? It can’t be that we have to all think alike. It can’t be that our worship has to be the same, or that our church buildings (when we have them) look alike. We know we don’t have to speak the same language. I believe that being a United Methodist means being committed to a holistic ministry. We are a people transformed by the grace of God. As new people in Christ, we are committed to an expression of ministry that is personal and communal; evangelical and missional; compassionate to individuals in need and seeking justice in society; a ministry that needs individual devotions and corporate worship. This comprehensive nature of United Methodism is what makes us who we are.
The challenge to the church is that unless we embrace this broad spectrum, we create a climate that is modeled on the narrow path of winners and losers in the discernment of the church’s future. Consequently, we respond to each proposal with distrust. We look for the ulterior motive – something we can strike down. Every proposal has an opposing view that points out what won’t work. We may need to let go to create a new vision for the World Wide church.
For American United Methodists, that means letting go of our U.S. centric world view. After returning from a meeting where there had been representatives from around the global church, I went to my Sunday School class in southern West Virginia. I had told them where I had been and some of what we had talked about. Even so, as members of the class prayed that morning the prayers were for our local church and “churches all around the United States.” I realized that we had a long way to go before a global church is part of our U.S. understanding!
A second area where God may be calling us to let go is in the area of personal priorities which we attempt to impose on everyone. This includes traditional mission emphases and rigid structure. Our family has experienced the changing nature of mission through our son, who is a new Global Mission Fellow now serving in Missouri in the midwest United States. He was trained and commissioned in the Philippines with 41 other young adults from all over the world. These young missionaries reflect the truly global nature of the World Wide church. They are sent from everywhere to everywhere. It is a new venture and may be a bit messy at first, but there are lives being transformed and disciples being made.
Letting go may bring a feeling of losing control and entering into chaos. But God has moved in chaos before and God created from chaos and said it was good. The Spirit can move still and we must be ready to move alongside God as once again God creates what is good for The United Methodist Church and the transformation of the world.
Judi Kenaston, Chair
Commission on General Conference
Judi Kenaston is a lay woman from the West Virginia Conference, where she serves as Annual Conference Secretary. She has served on the Commission on General Conference since 2008, and is currently chairperson of the Commission. She was a reserve delegate to the 2004 General Conference and a delegate to the 2008 and 2012 General Conference.