By Brian Hammons
What is the future of the United Methodist Church as a denomination?
That’s a question that’s being asked by many as we approach the season of electing delegates to the 2016 General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference. Those conferences meet every four years to debate and determine organizational legislative, and leadership priorities for the denomination, including to some extent our annual conferences and our local churches.
Our Missouri Conference will elect delegates at the upcoming 2015 Annual Conference in June. This will be an important work of discernment, as those chosen will represent us in making decisions about our United Methodist witness in the world and our future work together. We will elect 12 delegates (six lay persons and six clergy) to serve at General Conference, scheduled for May, 2016 in Portland, OR. We also will elect 12 more (six lay and six clergy) and four alternates (two and two) to serve along with the previous 12 at Jurisdictional Conference in July, 2016 in Wichita, KS, where new bishops will be chosen.
The process for elections will be reviewed in other articles and annual conference information.
For elections of laity delegates, your conference lay ministry team has developed a process for candidates to submit information about themselves that can be reviewed on the conference website. This should give all laity who attend annual conference an opportunity to learn about candidates, contact them with specific questions, and make informed decisions in June during these important elections. Check the website for details – www.moumethodist.org. It’s the same process used in 2011, with a few changes in the questions. We also plan to introduce the announced candidates during the laity session at annual conference and provide a time early in the conference for informal face-to-face discussion.
So – back to the earlier question: what IS the future of our denomination?
As your conference lay leader, I have the opportunity to work with a lot of committed leaders in the church, both within the conference and beyond.
Everywhere, there is a real desire for the church to reach more people, to be more relevant and vital in peoples’ lives. To make a difference.
Also everywhere, despite many rays of light, there is a sense of frustration in the difficulties our denomination has in reaching more people and impacting lives more deeply. Our Missouri conference is working to improve this, and there is a real sense of excitement, even hope. But that’s not the case everywhere in Methodism – at least not yet.
After the frustrations of the 2012 General Conference, and growing divisions over issues of homosexuality, accountability, scriptural interpretation, and the church’s missional focus, many United Methodists are very concerned about the next General Conference. Will it be different? How can delegates work through various proposals to prayerfully discern God’s spiritual direction, resolve differences, and position our denomination to better serve as Christ’s body in our world?
I’ll be writing more about all this in the months to come. In the meantime, I’d invite everyone to be in prayer for the United Methodist Church. Pray for our leaders, especially our bishop. Pray for God’s spiritual wisdom and guidance in the election process.
Pray for God’s moving in the hearts of spiritually-engaged laity leaders to offer themselves as candidates for election as delegates. And pray about whether God may be calling YOU to go for us, to represent our Missouri Conference and share the positive renewing things God is doing here. May God lead and inspire us all with wisdom and discernment as we begin thinking and praying about our denomination’s 2016 conferences.
And may God remind us that the MAIN THING isn’t elections or conferences – it’s making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Which happens best in local congregations reaching their community, one person at a time. Let’s keep focused on that!