Nashville, May 4
Forty-seven United Methodists from the five jurisdictions in the United States and 21 annual conferences gathered in Nashville this week to identify ways to encourage a strong centering voice for United Methodists to bear witness to a graceful and mutually respectful way of living in the Wesleyan tradition.
More than half of the ethnically diverse clergy and lay people who attended the gathering, “To Serve the Present Age,” were 45 years of age or younger. All agreed to join the gathering as an initial conversation about current controversies in The UMC and attended at their own expense. All committed to a process of prayerful discernment leading to the articulation of a clear, compelling, passionate vision for the people called Methodists.
The invitation to the gathering declared, “Our vibrant future as a movement calls for a guiding vision of the church that is biblically rooted, solidly orthodox, and relentlessly Wesleyan. The tensions we face in The UMC are a denominational expression of underlying worldwide shifts in the social order and alliances. The issues we are grappling with are larger than questions related to human sexuality and sexual ethics, but they will not be resolved without acknowledging the diversity of convictions on these particular matters. If United Methodists can find a way to live together around a central mission while allowing space for diversity on such questions, our connection of the faithful could become an important healing witness to our divided world.”
During the gathering several participants spoke of their belief that the majority of United Methodist people represent the larger “Methodist middle,” in which disciples of Jesus Christ share a common commitment to “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”—even as they hold different convictions about matters such as same-gender marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons.
In a plea for all who love The United Methodist Church to speak up, Tom Berlin, senior pastor at Floris UMC in Virginia, said, “It is imperative that the broad center find its voice and clearly state what they feel God is calling the church to do.” Berlin is a member of the United Methodist bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward, which was named after the 2016 General Conference to help the bishops guide the church in addressing issues of human sexuality. He suggested that UMs pray for the commission, offer their own insights for its work, and share hope.
“This gathering challenges me to have hope in a vision of United Methodists who love Jesus and share a great yearning to serve God’s world. It is so great that we are willing to look around the room and say, ‘Let’s walk this road together,’” said Karyn Richards-Kuan, an associate pastor at St. Paul’s UMC in Houston. Attendees left the gathering hopeful that they could generate practical action steps and timetables for constructive work to advance the mission and ministry of The UMC.
“We are responding to God’s call and encouraging a growing consensus that we can find a unifying path forward as United Methodist people,” according to Candace Lewis, a district superintendent in the Florida Annual Conference. A larger gathering building an ever-broader network of support is planned for the fall in Atlanta. Persons desiring more information may e-mail UMC.email@example.com.
Committed to lifting up a strong centering voice for faithful, graceful, and respectful ways of being in ministry, an informal group of United Methodists began praying about The UMC’s witness to the world given current controversies and uncertainty. Eager to join hands with others, they extended invitations to a diverse cross-section of about 50 leaders representing a variety of ages, regions, and racial and ethnic backgrounds to gather and foster a vital witness grounded in the Wesleyan tradition.
The initiating group included:
DJ del Rosario
A list of attendees is available on request.