We concluded our second meeting yesterday, having met at the Board of Global Ministries in Atlanta. We are thirty-two people from four continents, and we reflect the global and theological tapestry that is the United Methodist Church. And within these men and women are a profound diversity of gifts (1 Corinthians 12).
A few thoughts:
We are grateful for the prayer and support of many of you! I hear this over and over again as I travel, preach and listen in the churches across our state. The work of the Commission is embedded in prayer, worship and bible study, and this time we were rooted specifically in a Bible Study of Galatians chapter 1-3. Jorge Acevedo of Grace Church was one of the teachers in our recent meeting.
The Commission continues to focus on its mission, vision and scope and has been encouraged to think of our work as a renewal of our United Methodist movement. Our focus is on the fruitfulness, vitality and mission of the church. We want the church to flourish together in the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world. This is not merely rhetoric—we believe that abundant life and grace is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ and his body, the church.
There is a great spirit among us and many warm relationships among Commission members have been developed. Obviously there is more at stake than relationships, but we know that people who love each other are more likely to listen together for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and seek a common future. Everybody has remained at the table in a healthy way. We have gotten to know each other and begun to speak to the heart of the matter, acknowledging our different experiences and convictions. The focus so far has been on process and group work, taking care to build relationships and learn all we need before working on specific proposals for a way forward.
We are turning over every stone in seeking solutions and we recognize there are many things to consider at this stage considering the complexity of the work ahead of us. We are hopeful and optimistic about our work. I am reminded of Hebrews 11. 1: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
We have a deep commitment to unity, recognizing that unity may take a new form as we consider new structures while acknowledging the various cultural realities. We reflected more than once on Jesus’ prayer in John 17.21, “that they (the disciples) might be one…so that the world may know that you (God the Father) have sent me.” I would add that a unity that honors God must include the justice, mercy and humility of Micah 6. 8.
We are developing strategies for listening to and engaging others in this work, especially leaders and stakeholders throughout the Connection and in our Annual and Central Conferences, along the lines of our Town Hall meetings in Gainesville, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Capel Coral in the fall of 2016. There is within the Commission on a Way Forward a deep commitment to a pragmatic approach to maintain unity and a commitment to some form of inclusivity as we try to find a way forward.
The two scripture verses I have mentioned, from Hebrews and John’s Gospel, inspire me to imagine the church and the world as God sees it. When I am tempted to flatten words, or to assume an outcome, or to reach a premature closure, or to see my own truth as the only truth, God reminds me that “by the power at work within us (he) is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3. 20).