Dear friends –
Just a few days after the 2012 General Conference held at the Tampa Convention Center, I’m still trying to process all that I lived there, as well as reflecting about the future of our denomination in the aftermath of this global gathering.
988 delegates from the United States and Central Conferences in Africa, the Philippines, Europe and Asia had the opportunity to produce some radical changes in the life of our church. But no significant change happened.
The Call to Action some of us so enthusiastically supported through the last months won’t even pass beyond the correspondent Legislative Committee. In its place, a compromised formula called “Plan UMC” was voted and approved by the body, but declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council and such announcement was made almost at the time of closing the Conference business.
Yes, some other things I personally supported were approved by the Conference. There will be no more guaranteed appointments for the elders in our connection, a decision that, in my view, will help Cabinets to appoint those who have had a proven record of producing church vitality and churches to receive pastors who are really committed to bring people to Christ and to make a difference in the communities they serve.
Our Book of Discipline will retain the same language regarding human sexuality: homosexuality will still be considered a sin and a practice that is incompatible with the Gospel’s teaching. In the words of Bishop Whitaker, we made a clear option to continue being a “historic” rather than a “cultural” church, a church that will continue upholding the historic teachings of the Christian faith and is not driven by cultural tendencies.
After these 12 days of “holy” and sometimes “not so holy” conferencing, I believe change, restructure, transformation won’t come from the top down. We will need to produce a “holy revolution” from the local church all the way up to the top of this denomination once called “the enthusiasts” and “the Wesleyan revival." I have always believed that it is the life and practice of the church that is the one that produces the changes in the Book of Discipline. More than ever before, I am convinced that transformation and renewal cannot be mandated by the Book of Discipline, but needs to be the heart and core of the daily practice in the local church.
During this “after Conference” days, as I have been living through my “post traumatic GC stress disorder," I have come back to my core convictions and my most useful tools for revival: the Bible and Wesley’s Works.
Instead of asking for restructure, I believe we need to be asking for revival that will produce restructure. Instead of asking for changes in the church, I believe we should be praying and fasting for changes in the hearts, minds, words and ways to fulfill the Great Commission.
We need to go back to basics, and basics to me is asking for the fire of the Holy Spirit to be rekindled in our hearts, so we may feel our heart’s experience once again that particular warmth that is the sign of true Methodists. Back to the preaching of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, back to the preaching about personal and social holiness, back to the religion of the heart, the practice of the means of grace for our spiritual growth, the kind of enthusiasm that makes Christianity contagious and Churches refuse to die, leaving the coldness of the no-mission to embrace the passion for the co-mission.
Let us hear again the words of that holy man that was transformed at Aldersgate:
“I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God's creational intentions.”
Let us live into the mission of the church, into the passion for the unsaved, into the development of programs and strategies to be more effective in ministry and more open to change.
I can’t deny it. I come from that tradition. I was once a Christian who practiced a nice summer religion. I was part of a declining church that was about to disappear because of persecution and lack of meaning in the life of a nation. I have seen this before. I have seen how the Holy Spirit can change the depressing reality of a declining institution into the glorious reality of a powerful and transformative movement.
Once again, after General Conference, I was reignited by the words of one of the persons who has been more influential in my Christian journey. This is an entry in his Journal dated January 1st, 1739, just a few months after Aldersgate. He is describing what happened at a prayer vigil he and a group of friends had (yes, good Methodists have prayer vigils until 3.00 AM) on New Year’s Eve of 1739:
"Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Lane, (were present) with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing in instant prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, `We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord."
Let us claim this power again for our personal lives as well as for our denomination. Let us join in the words of the ancient hymn: “Revive us, oh Lord."
Truly yours in Christ’s service,
Rev. Dr. Rinaldo (Rini) Hernandez
Southwest District Superintendent