June 15, 2019
By Brian Hammons, SCJ Jurisdiction Lay Leader
Conference lay leaders from United Methodist annual conferences all over the U.S. (and one from Africa) met in April for their annual meeting. This group truly represents the broad spectrum of lay leadership across the denomination. The theme of the meeting was “Therefore, GO!: With HOPE Through Purpose.” Rev. Dr. Jacqui King from Discipleship Ministries presented the main program, with workshops from representatives of Commission on the Status and Role of Women and United Methodist Men.
As lay leader of the South-Central Jurisdiction, I’ve been privileged to attend meetings such as this and work with many dedicated lay leaders, especially those in our jurisdiction including our Missouri Conference Lay Leader Amy Thompson.
Over the years, I’ve seen how these leaders affirm the vital role of active lay persons and the focus upon local congregations as the “most significant arena” for accomplishing the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
They celebrate the connectionality of our global denomination and our common ministry as United Methodists. This year, seeing the positive attitudes and hearing the encouraging messages was renewing to my spirit. It caused me to reflect upon the challenges we face, and to gain a little perspective.
The following thoughts include portions of a statement I proposed to the conference lay leaders organization, which was adopted, and I’ve added some personal touches: Conference lay leaders, partnering with clergy in leadership, recognize that there are many differences among faithful leaders, both lay and clergy. Most of the time, this shows our strength in diversity as we work together, listen to and respect one another, and pursue our common purpose.
Unfortunately, the 2019 General Conference and subsequent reactions seems to have illuminated and exacerbated some long-standing differences, resulting in pain and conflict – particularly deep divisions over how we are to be in ministry with LGBTQIA persons and varying interpretations of Scripture.
Along with other lay leaders, we lament the resulting pain for all and the apparent brokenness of our connectional church. We mourn the reality that conflict and division are likely to continue if we go on with business as usual, hurting the mission and ministry of the church and straining our essential connectional relationships.
So, this is a critical time for our church and the mission of God for the Methodist movement. With the next General Conference coming soon in 2020, perhaps it’s time to seek a new form of unity based upon our common Wesleyan tradition and our common commitment to the mission field and not defined organizationally or structurally.
We’re not sure just what this may look like, but delegates will have to be able to work together to envision and develop a plan leading to a sustainable peace. One that gives our church the freedom to move into the future with integrity and wholeness in a new relationship with each other, connecting our past with a hope-filled future.
That’s why I believe it’s very important that conferences elect delegates at their upcoming 2019 sessions who can do that – listen to, work with and respect one another; affirm common purpose; carry out their responsibilities in the process with integrity; and prayerfully envision and adopt legislation that includes such a plan.
Conference lay leaders are hopeful that delegates to the 2020 General Conference will be able to work together and provide a resolution to our denominational conflict. Perhaps even allowing different parts of our church to walk forward on separate paths, blessing each others’ ministry.
I’m thankful for the connection with so many faithful laity leaders as we move forward toward a new Methodism that can share the love of God with a hurting world.
Whatever happens in the weeks and months to come, I’m confident that the conference lay leaders and thousands of other United Methodist laity leaders will continue serving faithfully in lay leadership, encouraging all laity to focus upon keeping the fire of our mission as the main thing in the months ahead. And reminding us all to trust in God for the unknown future.