It's been a very busy fall in ministry with work in the local church and the larger Church. Recently I spent time in Moscow, Russia as part of a North Georgia Annual Conference UMC delegation establishing a 10 year partnership with the Eurasia area of the UMC with focus on the Moscow seminary and the area UMC congregations. What a challenge to think of Methodist Christian principles that will work in that context! I followed the UMC Council of Bishops during their week long meeting at Lake Junaluska. What a challenge as they lead a global church even while struggling hot topics found in some national/regional issues!
All of this is percolating in my mind today in a curious way as I'm in a reflective mood working on Thanksgiving. #COB2013 reinforced for me that the UMC family has incredibly different agendas in various regions, different expectations, values and ways of interpreting/communicating Scripture & faith, and seem to be defining "vital church" in all sorts of ways. We seem to be in quite a mess that's been well blogged, opined, and reported upon. Are we a divided house, a dysfunctional family, or just a big family reunion that's very diverse with a lot of history?!
This ruminating has me wondering where United Methodism is currently doing well, where we are in ICU or dying, and where new life is springing forth.
My sense is that most of us don't self evaluate and communicate the truth on these matters too well. We don't do well with that regarding ourselves, anyone, or any group we love. Who wants to admit they are dying?! Is the script we operate on rooted in reality? Even in our interactions with one another we'll typically think/know we are right, think we know what's right to say and do, and are the exemplars of Methodist Christian faith. It seems to me there should be someone, some agency, that would clearly and definitively say one conference or region is dying, one is thriving, and another is a seedbed that is birthing a new church or experiencing a resurrection of an old church.
In personal interactions the dialogue and communication is different with someone early in life, someone growing rapidly, and someone who is dying. Shouldn't communication among various churches in these different states/regions also be appropriately nuance? Wouldn't we of necessity have different agendas, different concerns, and perhaps markedly different ideas on what the priorities are? Or maybe this is the way we think about one another when we are tweeting or on our soap box as we assume our superiority of knowledge and that if the other will just listen and do as I say we'll make progress.
In my mind I confess I tend to think the UMC is vibrant in some places in the southeastern US, declining in the US northeast and west, and being birthed and in the early years in a number of international settings. But I wonder if that's dated information and merely my bias! What if the picture is really that the UMC is declining in the US, vibrant in some of the existing forms in Africa, South America and Asia, and being born in some of the countries or regions of those vibrant conferences?! Perhaps you have the same trouble.
Today I find I'm even more curious about the state of Methodism, and in particular United Methodism, across the globe. By that, I'm wondering where we are being birthed, where we are thriving, and where we are dying. Now, I'm looking for more than anecdote or rhetoric, but reasonable facts, figures, in addition to the narrative of a UMC conference and churches that represent the Wesleyan doctrine and practice. Wouldn't this be a compelling and a clear view of quantity and quality that could assist us in knowing how we are doing? It might also help us to know in our communication with one another in a different region or in a global setting how we might better understand each other.
Related to this, I'm also curious what sorts of folk we need elected as delegates to GC2016. More than ever I think I'll be looking for people who have a global view, solid Wesleyan perspective, able to communicate well with a global church (meaning they listen more than they talk), and are more future driven in their thinking and decision making. So, if you want my vote know that I'll want to see that you help us build a church for the next 40 years- in North GA, the US, and the world- that you can communicate well with people whether you are sharing the story in Augusta, Georgia, USA or in Moscow, Russia.
If you are comfortable in a seedbed we're thinking in similar ways.