|Rev. Debbie McLeod|
Meeting July 25-28, The Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church endorsed bold changes to the focus of ministry and to the structure of our denomination. Changes such as bishops holding clergy and local churches accountable for evangelism and church vitality require no legislative changes from the General Conference. Other proposals dealing with denominational structure, redirecting funding toward new church starts and scholarships for young candidates for ministry, and changes to guaranteed appointment which strengthen exit procedures for underperforming clergy will require the vote of General Conference.
I have had the privilege of representing the Southeastern Jurisdiction on the Connectional Table since its inception in 2005. I also chaired the General Conference subcommittee which amended 2004 proposals for Living Into The Future that created the Connectional Table, and I presented the enabling legislation to the General Conference in Pittsburgh. It has been a privilege to represent you for these 8 years on the Connectional Table.
The Council of Bishops initiated a Call to Action in May 2009, which included a commitment to reorder the United Methodist Church for the 21st century. This Call to Action was endorsed by the Connectional Table, and I had the privilege of serving on the first iteration of the Steering Committee, which directed the focus of the changes to be proposed. The Rev. Jorge Acevedo, Lead Pastor of Grace Church (UM) in Cape Coral, then served on the second Call to Action Steering Committee, which worked with professional organizational consultants to move the changes forward. Their proposal was to redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations. As these were very small teams of 5-12 persons, it was an honor for the Florida Conference to be represented in the whole process. The last team to engineer proposed changes was The Interim Operations Team. I served on the 3 x 3 Task Force which recommended funding changes for the 2013-2016 denomination budget to empower these recommendations.
Committed lay persons who have served in Senior Executive positions with Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble and Methodist Hospital Systems worked tirelessly to redesign the church they love and serve. We are indebted to their expertise and wisdom.
I have great hopes for this work. The changes will require every local United Methodist Church to ask how God wants us to reach and serve our community and the world. The focus will be on the Missional Vital Signs that we are reporting monthly. Clergy must be effective in reaching and teaching new disciples, not just in care for those already in the pews.
There are significant changes proposed to the structure of the denomination. Instead of 13 General Boards and Agencies, each with a large board of directors, there will be one Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry with five offices. The five offices will be Congregational Vitality, Leadership Excellence, Missional Engagement, Justice & Reconciliation and an Office of Shared Services (Finance, Communications and IT). One board of 15 persons would oversee the Center and the Offices. An Advisory Board of 45 members would bring more diversity and constituent based feedback. One aspect of this proposal is the appointment of one bishop, without a residential assignment, to hold annual conferences accountable for these changes in vitality.
I have no doubt about the efficacy of Jesus Christ in the world today. It is my prayer that The United Methodist Church, which has been in a decline in membership for my whole life, will find new vitality and renewal so that we might be relevant to the needs of broken people all around us, in every place where people call themselves United Methodists. If we refuse to serve our neighbors, Jesus will raise up others to do his work. Ultimately, this can only be a transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, we are called upon to be wise about our polity and governance. These are important matters that our church will undertake next April in Tampa.