Come with Me to Remember our Future
One of the poignant questions posed to the delegates and attendees of the 2012 Annual Conference in Galveston during Bishop Janice Riggle Huie’s Episcopal Address: Do you think it would make a difference in the State of Texas if the United Methodist Church didn’t exist here?
Why ask such an abrupt question? During the last five years, UMC worship attendance in the US declined 8.7% (just over 291,000 people). By comparison, The Texas Annual Conference averages about 105,000 in worship attendance. A loss that size is the equivalent to the closing of all 685 churches in the TAC as well as those in North, Central, Rio Grande and Southwest – every UMC church in the state of Texas and close to 50% of the churches in New Mexico.
To change this trend, Bishop Huie pledged to devote 100% of her energy in the TAC. “My priorities are your priorities: starting new congregations and strengthening existing congregations, a focus on the young as well as clergy and lay development. I am also excited to be continuing raising support and awareness for the Emerging Leaders Endowment.”
After meeting recently in Houston with other active SCJ bishops, Bishop Huie expects a follow up meeting later this month with a small nationwide group of clergy and laity who “see a new church and want to help our congregations and conferences move forward. More than ever before TAC is providing leadership to the larger church.”
“Why does the world need the UMC, anyway?”
· Our Identity: Methodists are people grounded and growing in grace. That grace emphasizes both personal holiness and social holiness. John Wesley describes the Christian this way: “Love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul.” God blesses us with the means to holiness: prayer, reading and studying scripture, fasting, community worship, receiving the sacraments and doing good. In Bishop Schnase’s book, Remember the Future, he describes grace breaking into our lives. What story comes to mind about God’s grace breaking through in your life? Being a Methodist Christian makes a difference in individual lives.
· Our Mission: Methodists do no harm, do good and stay in love with God. “I invite you to use your imagination to bring the vital past into the expectant present. Following the General Conference in 1864, a delegation of Methodist leaders met with President Abraham Lincoln which resulted in a note of thanks that said: The Methodist Church sends more soldiers to the field, more nurses to the hospital and more prayers to Heaven than any. God bless the Methodist Church.”
· Practicing our faith: Methodists embody an ecclesiology that might be best described with three verbs: connect, cooperate, create. “Our young clergy understand connection primarily as relational, missional and theological. Only then is it structural via boards, agencies or apportionments. See the wisdom? Strong and vibrant Methodist congregations help shape the nation.” As innovators, Methodists create as part of our DNA, she adds. John Wesley pursued field preaching and appropriated the technology of the day to begin publishing. Methodists saw the vacuum in public education and created the Sunday School. Asbury created and inspired circuit riders and made great use of the camp meeting.
Our task ahead: Clear focus
“Building on our past, what do we need to do now right here in the Texas Annual Conference? I am asking you help us implement three things:”
1) More fruitful, missional and growing congregations – starting new congregations and equipping stable or declining congregations to become vital
2) Lay and clergy development – continued recruitment of gifted, young, diversified clergy and enlarging leadership development opportunities for career clergy while creating a new component of lay leadership development
3) Focus on the young: reaching the young in Texas and globally will become our primary missional focus.
Deciding is easy. Implementation is harder. The outcome will be determined by how well these are implemented at the local church level. All is possible through the inspiration of the holy spirit.
Call to action: Three challenges
Challenge 1 – Use your copy of Remember the Future: Praying for the Church and Change to continue the conversation. Read it in community, use the questions for conversation starters and prayers for unity builders. Inspire change for a better future.
Challenge 2 – I am asking every pastor to preach a sermon or series on why the world needs the UMC.
Challenge 3 – I am asking laity to go back to congregations across the state and help foster a partnership with at least one school, because the most important factor in a child’s maturity is the influence of a caring adult. All 685 churches in the TAC can do something. What if we measured church vitality by reading test scores or how well children transitioned into responsible citizens?
“According to the March report from GCFA, there were only five conferences in the US that increased in worship attendance and professions of faith between 2010-11 and we were one of them. Yet we have a long way to go, given the population in Texas. I am praying fervently that the wild and wonderful, upside-down turning, life-changing, institution-reforming, movement-birthing Holy Spirit will come upon this Texas Annual Conference and inspire us to remember God’s dream for the world. In the words of John Wesley, Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.”