St. Luke's and the United Methodist Church
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
Since the end of February we have been holding our general church giving in escrow following the actions of the special General Conference held in St. Louis. Recently our leadership committed to start paying our support to the Indiana Conference. Read here a letter to the church from our Governing Board chair, Curtis Rector.
This past week I got to studying attendance figures from more than 20 of our largest United Methodist churches around the country. The results are very interesting. Sixteen of these churches have had decline since 2015, some precipitous. The average rate of decline among these churches is 18.5%. Only five churches showed increases. I am pleased to say St. Luke's was among that number with a 4.7% increase since 2016. I don't know that there is a clear reason for this. Most of these churches are centrist. They are not ultra progressive or conservative. They are, for the most part, churches I imagine looking a lot like St. Luke's, a mix of everything. They don't fit stereotypes like "more liberal churches are dying while all evangelical churches are growing." Some churches have had significant internal challenges. Others have gone through periods of significant growth and more recently leveled off or declined somewhat - which is normal in life cycles of growing churches. One thing is for certain, the 2016 General Conference that began preparing for the showdown that happened this past February in St. Louis did not help United Methodism.
At the heart of things, our mission is not causes, clauses or caucuses. Our mission is people. We are called to share the hope of Jesus Christ with all people. The majority of United Methodism is looking more and more like St. Luke's. That is, we believe all people means ALL people. As it says in John 3:16, "Whoever!"
Throughout our history we have had to tear down the human dividers that separate us. There was a time when we were divided by race--and yes, I realize that condition is more of an "is" than a "was." At least we aren't falling apart as a General Conference on whether black people should have the same rights in the church as whites. Then we had to tear down the wall over full inclusion of women. (Again, see previous qualifier about is and was!) But we aren't threatening separation as a denomination over ordaining women.
The time is drawing nigh on full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons. The wall is crumbling. But to reiterate, when the wall fully comes down we cannot celebrate mission accomplished. Our mission is to help all people know their value as children of God and that they have a place at the table among the family of God. I get it when someone says to me, "I'm just getting tired of hearing about causes!" I hear gay people say the same. As one gay United Methodist said at a conference we hosted earlier this year, "I just want to be a part of the conversation in the church and quit being the topic of it!"
We will have another General Conference next May in Minneapolis. Nationwide we have elected a more centrist/progressive slate of delegates, particularly among the clergy. I met with the Indiana delegation for our first meeting last Saturday in Kokomo. We will continue to meet monthly between now and GC. Lots of conversations are happening around the country working to bring proposals (due in September!) that will hopefully bring change and harmony to the people called Methodists. My hope is that the United Methodist Church will not dissolve in the process. But regardless, our mission is not to preserve an institution. Toward the end of his life, John Wesley wrote prophetic words:
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit and discipline with which they first set out.
The heart of that "doctrine, spirit and discipline" could be summed up this way: people matter to God! As long as we possess within us a passion to reach people (all people) for Christ, believing that having a relationship with Him makes a difference, then we will be strong and our future hopeful. To that end we must persevere!
See you Sunday,