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Friday, March 28, 2008

A Future with Hope

General Conference is approaching and will make many decisions that affect us all as United Methodists. The theme for General Conference is "A Future with Hope." Few United Methodists would argue that these aren't the easiest times for us. Those in various "corners" of the wide and sometimes thinly stretched "tent" of United Methodism may view General Conference and the United Methodist Church's future with anything but hope.

Yet hope is something we actively pursue through prayer and self-discipline. I would also say through our own confession and repentance of what we have contributed to what isn't right and good about our Church; self-discipline keeps us from trying to get others to confess and repent for what they have contributed to its decline!

I have hope for the future of United Methodism by keeping my eyes focused on our mission and working toward it: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I have hope when resisting cynicism and disparaging others. Holy conferencing is essential to a future of hope, especially at General Conference.

I have hope when I see new life bubbling up in the church in the midst of decline like a forest floor where new shoots come up and out of decaying stumps.

See my website article ( under the bishop's corner for other reflections on General Conference and a future with hope.

What do you hope for in our future as United Methodists?

What is your hope for General Confernce?



ironic1 said...

Few United Methodists would argue that these aren't the easiest times for us.


Brent Olson said...

Two years ago at Annual Conference, when we dealt with some hugely contentious issues, I came away with a really good feeling, because everyone tried so hard to make their points, yet hang onto their courtesy and charity. That's what I would hope for from General Conference.

The frustrating thing is, in my opinion, so many of these contentious issues really have very little to do with a life of faith. Nothing to do with feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, nothing to do with the Great Commandment. Sure, the issues before us, particularly in regards to matters of sexuality, need to be dealt with, and the time has probably come to deal with them, but how they somehow came to be identified as central issues in a life of faith I find utterly baffling.

Perspective is important. These times aren't really so tough, at least not for us here in the United States, here in the Minnesota United Methodist Church. No one is bombing our churches, no one is threatening the lives of our children if we let them attend confirmation - heck, looking from a historical perspective the times are pretty darn easy.

To me, it comes down to this. We see declining membership, declining involvment and influence for the church in daily life and we struggle to figure out how to attract people back, which makes us a little like the kid in seventh grade who frantically tries to figure out how to be cool, when the truth is, the only way to be hip is to be so hip that you don't care if you're hip.

We need to decide who and what we are, and then live that out with precision and grace and that clarity and purpose is what will attract people to our churches.

That's what I would like out of General Conference.

Brent Olson
p.s. I just re-read this. Perhaps I shouldn't have had three cups of coffee with breakfast. Oh well.

Jeff Ozanne said...

As I think about General Conference, I am struck by how much the disagreements and conflict tend to be about issues of great importance to people who are older and increasing irrelevant to people who are younger. From my experience most people who are under 30 or of a more post-modern framework have moved past issues and the rhetoric that has dominated our conferencing for the last 30 years. This is not because all these people think alike, but because I think the focus has shifted. As Brent commented, I think we need to make our church be about missions and ministry, not about orthodoxy and defining what that means. I guess I would hope that General Conference helps move the church forward with its vision of making disciples and transforming the world. While I have my own opinions of what is right and what is wrong and what we need to believe as a church, I think to fight over those is to hurt the body of Christ.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

General Conference is a democratic, deliberative body. As you rightly ask, "Is this the best way for the church to make decisions?" But also as you rightly ask, "What are the alternatives?" If we believe that God's Spirit can speak through a variety of voices, and speak in the midst of dialogue between people, then messy democracy becomes necessary democracy.

One of the frustrating and messy features of democracy is the temporal nature of its decisions. In a democratic process, an issue decided one day can be considered again the next day. Sometimes this can seem like wasting time, but complex issues take time and effort to work through. We can only hope that in the midst of considering the variety of issues before us we make good decisions about how to use our time.

So there we are - what other hopes do I have for General Conference as a delegate? Two New Testament texts have come to mind, keeping the entire New Testament as context. "And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear" (Hebrews 8:12c). I hope that at General Conference we will begin to be able to let go of those parts of our structure, those ways of doing things, that are no longer life-giving and mission-enhancing. I hope we will use our rich history to build a positive bridge into the future.

I hope we will make some decisions that contribute something to God's dream for the world - a dream of peace, justice, beauty and joy. I hope we do some things that make Christ more real to the world. I hope some hearts and minds are touched in new ways by God's Spirit in worship and in conversation.

Most of all I hope that we keep in our minds and live out in our lives this simple Scripture: "Let all that you do be done in love" (I Corinthians 16:14)

Theresa Whitside said...

Open discussion with love is good. However, our guide and plumbline must be the scriptures. Love over all, just like I Cor. 13. Scripture does remain clear about the chosen lifestyle of homosexuality. It states that is it wrong. We must stand on the WORD and cannot promote it. As we change the Bible to read just what we want it to say then there is no relevance to it. We must remember that it is God's word's for us. His love letter to us and guide for abundant life. If our leaders are practicing ungodly lifestyles what is next and where will that lead us. Minister to everyone in love, but love and obey God and His Word.

Paul Marzah said...

I agree with your comments Bishop. I am enjoying Annual Conference. Thanks for your Leadership. Would love to see you blog more about your thoughts on sessions, etc...

As always you are in my prayers.

Paul Marzahn