General Conference: cautious, optimistic hope for future

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

General Conference: cautious, optimistic hope for future

May 6, 2008    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0847}

NOTE: A headshot of Acevedo is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By the Rev. Jorge Acevedo**

Months before leaving for General Conference, the teaching pastors at Grace Church agreed that we needed to do a five-week series on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. Little did I know then that this decision would be very timely for me upon my return from Fort Worth.

The Rev. Wes Olds, one of the pastors on our staff, was tapped to speak on May 4, the day after my return from General Conference. His topic was “It Takes a Team!” He was going to focus on how Nehemiah masterfully organized a healthy team to fulfill a God-sized project — the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem and the restoring of the honor due God’s name.

As I sat in the fourth of our morning worship services at Grace Church May 4, it hit me like a ton of bricks. What Wes was teaching on was a fresh word for The United Methodist Church following General Conference 2008.

Much like the walls of Jerusalem during Nehemiah’s day lay in ruin, the walls of The United Methodist Church in the United States are torn down, as well. From 1968 to 2008, we lost more than 4 million members. Forty-two percent of our churches never report a single profession of faith in a year. The average U.S. United Methodist is 57.

What I found refreshing was that our bishops are reporting this to us. The “elephant in the room” is being named. This is a great thing; no, not the news, but the honesty.

In my twelve-step community, I first heard the words, “Denial is not a river in Egypt!” The first step toward the healing of our denominational illness is being honest about out current condition. This is the first time in my 24 years of United Methodist ministry that I have heard this kind of forthrightness from our episcopal leadership. Way to go bishops!

After Wes reminded us that God wants us to rebuild the walls of our lives, churches, families and communities together, he skillfully described the nature of healthy teams that work together to take on God-sized initiatives.

First, Wes said, healthy teams have passionate clarity. For Nehemiah around 450 BC, this meant having a crystal-clear goal. This was no time for stuttering. The clarion call to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem so that the name of the Most High God would be honored again was the goal. This simple, yet profound goal kept everyone on task and accountable.

The Rev. Jorge Acevedo (right), senior pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, and Bill Walker, lay leader of the Florida Conference, confer during a plenary session of the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.  Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #08-0840.

At General Conference 2008, our bishops gave us four crystal-clear and passionate goals as “the people called Methodist.” They are: 1). Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world, 2). Creating new places for new people by starting new congregations and revitalizing existing ones, 3). Engaging in ministry with the poor, and 4). Stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally.

I believe that, coupled with a new honesty about the condition of The United Methodist Church in the United States, these four passionate and clear goals have the awesome potential of turning around our declining and aging church in the United States.

The questions yet to be answered are: will we create ministries at every level of our church that keep us on target to accomplish these goals and not get sidetracked by other concerns? Will we hold one another accountable in true Wesleyan style at every level of the church, from bishops to clergy, from annual conferences to local churches, to “benchmarks” for each of these four goals?

Second, Wes told us healthy teams have covenants of trust. Twenty-eight times in Nehemiah 3, the phrase “next to him” or “beside him” is used. Not only was the rebuilding of the wall at stake, but also the survival of the Jewish nation. For this God-sized project to work, every worker had to trust his or her coworker. Side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder, Jewish kin worked in confident trust of their neighbor “having their back.” This is a healthy team.

As a third-time delegate to General Conference, I find myself very frustrated at the whole legislative process. It gets the job done, but at a huge price. In our delegation, we sadly joked about the misuse of the phrase “holy conferencing.” To me, very little in this legislative process felt “holy” or “conferencing.” The times of worship really helped center us on God and our mission, but the rest seemed to pit us one against the other. Petitions, legislative committees, elections and fliers shoved in your hand as you entered the convention center do not foster healthy, trusting relationships. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I am sure our current process is not working at building covenants of trust.

Third, Wes told us that healthy teams have diversity with focus. A quick glance at the workers on Nehemiah’s rebuilding team reveals that they were from different tribes and had different skills. Nehemiah 3:8a (NLT) says: “Next was Uzziel son of Harhaiah, a goldsmith by trade, who also worked on the wall. Beyond him was Hananiah, a manufacturer of perfumes.”

A goldsmith worked next to a perfumer. One from one tribe stood next to another from another tribe. And in the end, together, they fulfilled a God-sized dream to God’s glory and the people’s good.

General Conference, if anything, is diverse. From every annual conference they came to Fort Worth. Many nations were represented, and many languages were spoken. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor, clergy and laity, liberal and conservative descended upon the Fort Worth Convention Center.

But why was the wall not rebuilt? I would contend that we do not have a focus. We have falsely believed that if we include everyone together, we accomplish a God-sized project. Being inclusive in many ways has become our god. Please hear me — diversity is a very good thing. We just need to add focus.

If we were truly focused on a common goal, we would find much in common. We would find a uniting passion, and we would share God’s vision for restoration and rebuilding of lives and communities. I am hoping and praying that with our four focus areas, we can once again rise and become the people called to “spread scriptural holiness across the land.”

I am optimistically, yet cautiously hopeful for The United Methodist Church in the United States. I pray we can sense the leading of the Holy Spirit calling us to be a healthy team with passionate clarity, covenants of trust and diversity with focus.


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Acevedo is senior pastor at Grace United Methodist Church, with locations in Cape Coral, Fort Myers Shores and North Fort Myers, and co-leader of the Florida Conference delegation to the 2008 General Conference.

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