The future of the United Methodist Church: Inclusive, Respectful, HopefulInclusivity Leadership Next Generations
As members of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church gathered for their first in-person Annual Conference meeting in three years, there was one overriding question: What’s next?
“I get asked a lot, more than I want to get asked, what is the future of the United Methodist Church,” Conference Co-Lay Leader Alice Williams said. “What does that look like? What is it?
“Friends, I don’t know. But what I do know is that it is up to us. We are the ones; we are the stewards for whatever the church is to be.”
Attendees at the three-day Conference grappled with many spiritual, financial, and organizational issues.
Thirteen churches formally disaffiliated with the Conference and more are expected to follow as individual congregations and pastors debate the role LGBTQ+ individuals could play going forward in a reconfigured UMC. That won’t be formally decided until the twice-delayed General Conference in 2024.
“Only the General Conference can change our (Book of) Discipline,” said Rev. Alex Shanks, the assistant to Bishop Ken Carter. “Our Discipline has not been changed, and it cannot be changed until the General Conference in 2024. So, our current language regarding human sexuality is the same.”
Other important UMC tenets remain unchanged as well.
“We have a strong doctrinal core. Our doctrinal standards cannot change; they are protected by the restricted rules in the constitution. We are a church that believes in the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are a church that believes in the lordship of Christ, who was fully human, fully divine,” Rev. Shanks said.
“We believe in the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection, and we have a high view of scripture. We believe scripture contains all things necessary for salvation.”
The aim is to create a spiritual home for all people.
“For opinions, let us not destroy the work of God. Do you love and serve God? It is enough. Do you love and serve God, Wesley asked? It is enough. I give you the right hand of fellowship. What if the only criteria was, do you love and serve God,” Bishop Kenneth Carter said.
“Holiness is loving God and loving our neighbor. And friends, this is an opinion. You will never leave and find a pure form of church. The calling of a Methodist is to love God and love your neighbor in a catholic spirit. It is through loving our neighbor that we learn to forgive and be forgiven.”
Conference Mission Training and Volunteer Coordinator Molly McEntire said the vital work goes on, despite the delay in gathering for the General Conference.
|Molly McEntire and the Rev. Alex Shanks|
“Although this postponement is a disappointment—and it is a disappointment—the vital work of your local church has not been postponed. Feeding the hungry, taking care of the homeless has not been postponed,” she said.
“Caring for the marginalized has not been postponed. In fact, our world needs our churches now more than ever.”
The UMC also will continue to be a big tent.
“We just want to assure you that we want there to be a spiritual home for all people in the United Methodist Church,” Rev. Shanks said.
“Everyone, no matter your theological perspective, everyone will have a home in the United Methodist Church. We will allow churches to have a conversation, through their staff-parish committees, to have an extended profile, to express their theological perspective process, and to clarify how they will walk into the future of the United Methodist Church.”
|The Best Supper, created by Rev. Jan Richardson|
Alice Williams used a picture called The Best Supper, created by the Rev. Jan Richardson, Director of the Wellspring Studio LLC, to illustrate what she believes the future looks like. Rev. Richardson is an Elder in the Florida Conference.
Williams talked about moving as a child from West Virginia to Orlando which hardly resembled the bustling, dynamic city it has become.
“For me, the future of the United Methodist Church is this,” she said. “If you came to our house, you ended up at the kitchen table. And friends, quite frankly, if you come to my house today, you would likely end up at the kitchen table or the table out on the patio, and there will be food involved.”
She grew up in that spirit of hospitality.
“I can remember as a kid on Sunday nights and Saturday nights, our house was open. We lived off a two-lane road in East Orlando, and our house became the place where people came and gathered together. It was a lot of people who didn’t have other places to go,” she said.
“There was conversation. There wasn’t always agreement, but there was always the ability to sit at the table and to love and to talk. Those people became very important in the formation of my life. Our house was a place where people found refuge. Our house was a place where people were welcomed. There were no pretenses. I can remember having people show up drunk sometimes, a little tipsy.”
The Conference coincided with the sixth anniversary of the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. A gunman, apparently overcome with hatred of gays, murdered 49 people and wounded 53 more.
“It’s something I doubt I will ever be able to let go of,” Williams said. “It’s like the shooting of JFK for me, or Martin Luther King, or Robert Kennedy, or 9-11, or Trayvon Martin, or Ahmad Arbery, or Sandy Hook, or Marjory Stoneman (Douglas High School), or Mother Emanuel (church in Buffalo), or, more recently, Uvalde.
“Any and all of those things that leave a place inside us where we can’t say anything other than we are broken. I can’t let Pulse go. Pulse was personal because it happened in my town, and it targeted my LGBTQ tribe. Regardless of where you stand on the acceptance spectrum, it shook Orlando and the surrounding areas to the core.”
As horrible as that was, what happened afterward was a testament to love and caring.
“As people heard about the shooting, they wanted to do something, and they wanted to do something. They showed up with food, they showed up with water, they showed up with donations, and the bloodmobile was there. Within an hour, they had over a week’s worth of people lined up to give blood,” Williams said.
So, what is the future?
“The future of the United Methodist Church is many things. One thing I think is really important, as I often stand as someone who represents the next generation coming through, I do see a multi-generational church. A church that makes room for all at the table, but I see many generations at the table,” Co-Lay Leader Derrick Scott III said.
“Yes, we need the next generation. We need their energy; we need their vision. We need their sense that, yes, things can change. And we need those who have been around for a few Annual Conferences. We need those who remember what the Book of Discipline used to say and what it might need to say.”
Combine those things, and we have a church that can stride boldly through past this uncertain time and into a Spirit-led future.
“I am hopeful,” Williams said. “I am hopeful.”
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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