Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"The United Methodist Church at 40" by Dr. Russ Richey

Dr. Russ Richey, Professor of Church History at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, is someone I've gotten to know a little better in recent months as we both sit on the North Georgia UMC conference board of ordained ministry. I confess he isn't exactly what I would have imagined only having known him from a distance previous to our shared service to the larger Church. But you can't judge a person by his bow tie!

I am beginning to think the good professor of church history, and some who serve in similar capacities, might be some of the best people who understand where Methodism has been and how we might move forward in more vital ways which better express our doctrine and polity.

Find a great resource at Methodist Review which shares academic thinking with many possibilities for practical application. "Methodist Review is sponsored by the Candler School of Theology, Emory University; the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University; the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools; and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church. Free, one-time registration is required." If these first articles are any indication you will find it well worth your time.

I continue to struggle with what I am beginning to think of as the necessary deconstruction of a denomination as we've known it (similar to GM) and the new organizational structure which better allows us to be in effective, sustainable ministry while better expressing Methodist Christianity. Find Russ Richey's article on "The UMC at 40: Where Have We Come From?" and find many answers rooted in our history which will also help us see more clearly a strong future. Dr. Richey offers good analysis with focus on "connection enhancing" and "connection straining" aspects of Methodism. Another nice quote: "One century's initiatives become another's burdens."

After an overview of key trends and influences for Methodism of 1884, 1939, & 1969 Richey "brings it home" (as they would say of a preacher in these parts). Check it out.

Speaking of United Methodism Richey writes:

"We have been a church of partial visions and fragmented leadership. Each board or agency functions independently, competing with the others, acting like it alone were the church. Board directors and committee members view themselves as representing their respective jurisdiction or caucus. Caucuses pursue their agendas. Bishops operate in diocesan fashion, serving their respective conference, itinerant general superintendents only when they fly off to a meeting. Clergy-in-conference worry over pensions and health care. We have left it to individual pastors to try to deal the the big problems in American cities. Many responded creatively, heroically, and stoically. No one, nobody, capitalized on experimental success, conceived a national strategy, and established new implementation procedures for Methodist and United Methodist witness to a changing American society. To be sure, a board policy here and a Key 73 there imagined Methodism doing something coherent, extensive, coordinated, sustained. But to naught."

Read more of Richey (and an intriguing article on "What Makes Theology 'Wesleyan'?") at the Methodist Review.

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