Insanity or Integrity? On Closing the Floor at #GC2016

Will we choose insanity or integrity?

Will we choose insanity or integrity?

“These kinds of ‘organisms’ often express themselves with beautiful ‘values’.  The      problem is not in their beliefs;  it is in how they function with those beliefs.”                  Rabbi Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve

For the UMC to move into Portland with nothing unchanged would be a textbook example of insanity.  But that is a choice, not destiny.  The question is, do United Methodists care enough about the work of General Conference to establish policies and procedures that encourage its integrity?  David Watson has offered a modest proposal toward that end:

“I suggest that we close the GC meeting space to all but delegates, bishops, and other essential personnel. Anyone who wishes to watch the proceedings can do so via live streaming. We should ban all caucus groups from having a presence inside our gathering space: no protests, no signs, no distribution of materials, no flash mobs, no stopping our work together. We should focus on the business at hand with as little distraction as possible.”

Simple enough, yes?  Joel Watts has also added to this conversation, spelling out how this might be achieved.  An important distinction that hasn’t been consistently made in this discussion is just what one means by “closed.”  Following Watson’s language, I refer specifically to the physical floor space during voting sessions.  That is, I would encourage the floor of General Conference be closed to only voting members, essential personnel, and bishops during debate, discussion, and voting.  All proceedings that are usually public would remain so, but via closed-circuit television and live streaming.  The intent – and this is crucial – is not secrecy in any form, but the integrity of the proceedings themselves.

Many folks – delegates, potential delegates, and not-a-snowballs-chance-in-hell-of-being-delegates like myself – are already dreading 2016.  I recently heard a North Carolina delegate describe Tampa as “a carnage of ugliness.”  How can we expect true holy conferencing, not to mention wise, fruitful decisions, to be made in such an environs?  Closing the floor would not necessarily lead to a utopia, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Why is this?  Because closing the floor would prevent some of idealogical grandstanding by unelected and uninvited parties.  No protests.  No propaganda.  No seizing the table.  No caucuses, at least inside the bar.  Just doing the work the church has called this body to do during the only time it can be done: the quadrennial gathering in which the whole UMC can make its most significant decisions.  This is exactly the same measure my Conference takes when electing delegates to General Conference; all may watch the proceedings, but only voting members are allowed on the floor.  If it’s necessary for Annual Conference, why would it be unwise for General Conference?

As the quote at the top from Friedman suggests, this isn’t about keeping out any particular point of view.  The issue isn’t belief but behavior.  Let the caucuses do their work – they do serve an important role – but do not let their private missions interfere with accomplishing General Conference’s task.

No healthy organization would allow interest groups and other uninvited parties free reign to  jeopardize a senior board meeting or other significant gathering.  Does Congress let the Tea Party take over the floor?  Would GE let Occupy Wall Street into their board of directors meeting to distribute fliers and make speeches?  More to the point, pastors, how would you react if a Sunday School class or Bible study group demanded space and air time during an Administrative Council or SPRC meeting?

For all its wisdom and obviousness, I am not hopeful that our leadership will be interested in this proposal.  I fear they are too concerned over pushback in what will already be a heated gathering. Indeed, invasive persons often rely on the decency of others to get their way. As Friedman observes,“in institution after institution the invasive forces get their way because of a lack of ‘stamina’ that is hard to muster up in the ‘peace-loving.’” (149)

We know what to expect at Portland.  Insanity is hoping for different results while repeating the same things.  Integrity is not about judgmentalism or exclusion, but about health.  Every healthy organism, down the the cell itself, has functional (i.e. permeable to some but not all outside agents, but still present) boundaries.  Part of why recent General Conferences have lacked basic functionality is because the leadership has not promoted the integrity of the body.

In 2016, the choice is before us: insanity or integrity?  My hope, unfounded as it may be, is that we can see the storm clouds approaching and choose a different path, and thus reasonably anticipate some new possibilities, in Portland.

What do you think? Are there drawbacks to this approach I’m not thinking of? Are there other benefits?

Source: Edwin Friedman, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Seabury 2007), 146-149.  For a great summary of Friedman’s theory of differentiated leadership, check out this video.

Remembering Bishop Martin McLee



I was, like many others, saddened to hear of the death of New York Annual Conference’s Bishop Martin McLee on September 6.  I had heard that he was on leave for an illness but I had no idea it was this serious.  I now wish I had reached out to him to share my prayers and appreciation for his ministry.  In lieu of that regret, I will do so here.

I met Bishop McLee because of the Ogletree Just Resolution.  I had first heard about this through media outlets – some praising, others criticizing.  Later, I was surprised to receive an invitation to participate in the forum resulting from the Just Resolution.  The video of that event is here.

What strikes me as I think back over that event was Bishop McLee’s character and charisma.  This is clearly a man who loved, and was loved by, his church(es).  He took a stand on something that was meaningful to him and was willing to face the critics and the consequences, knowing many would disagree.  Whether one approves of the Ogletree resolution or not, we should all respect someone who takes a stand for their convictions.

Bishop McLee was a generous soul.  He was kind and hospitable to me, an outsider and guest in his Conference.  It is a rare combination, and one that all of us would do well to emulate, to see someone who so convinced of their own course and yet so gracious to their critics and interlocutors.

His parting words to me at the conclusion of the event were of the via media.  “We’re a middle way Conference here in New York,” he said.  “We have all kinds.”

Indeed, I respect Bishop McLee for seeking a via media through a difficult path; an advocate for justice and full inclusion of LGBT persons in the UMC, but a Bishop charged with upholding the Discipline.  He sought to honor both of these roles rather than choose one or the other.  For that, I am grateful.

But Bishop McLee’s life and ministry are much more than this, his most famous action as a Bishop.  He was a servant of God, a pastor’s pastor and a courageous leader.  May he rest in peace, and may God continue to raise up men and women like Bishop Martin McLee among the people called United Methodists.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” (Rev. 14:13, NRSV)

Listening Over Labeling: Refusing the Easy Way Out

Pigeons in holes, courtesy Wikipedia.

Pigeons in holes, courtesy Wikipedia.

Viggo Mortensen, perhaps now most famous for his portrayal of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is one of my favorite actors. A few years ago, he was cast in an adaptation of the 1981 play Good; he played a mellow literature professor in Germany in the 1930’s who wrote a book on euthanasia that heavily influenced the Third Reich. It was such a different role from the sort of character he’s often portrayed: the rough, rugged, sometimes violent protagonist (consider A History of Violence, Hidalgo, and The Road).

Well, for many film fans, it was somewhat discomfiting seeing Mortensen act in such a drastically different role. In a 2009 interview in The Telegraph, Mortensen talked about people’s reaction to his being cast in Good:

“People like to pigeonhole you. It’s easier.” 

The Via Media Methodists stated goal is to “hear both sides” (read more in our about section). We have tried, in our short existence, to do just that, all the while realizing we will never live up to some people’s demands expectations. Tom Lambrecht, vice president of Good News, an evangelical United Methodist group, has been a frequent conversation partner, commenting on several of our posts and interacting on other social media sites. David Nuckols, a member of the board of directors of the progressive Reconciling Ministries Network, has also been a supporter of VMM and has been actively engaged with us. We at VMM truly believe that both progressives AND conservatives have so much to offer The United Methodist Church, and a via media can mine the richness of both traditions. 

Rev. Jeremy Smith at Hacking Christianity recently wrote a post in which he levels all sorts of criticism at the writers of this blog; namely, that we have mischaracterized and not adequately included progressive voices. While we have had a self-described progressive write for us (you can read Dennis Sander’s piece here), Smith casually dismisses this inclusion as “token” and “parroting” (I’m just not sure if Rev. Smith realizes how offensive and inappropriate it is to refer to a gay African-American man as such). He also attempts to pigeonhole us as a “conservative” blog, a charge rejected by others across the theological spectrum who have engaged with our work.

What Smith’s post reveals is that those firmly entrenched in one camp or another, be it progressive or conservative, seem to not be able to deal with difference in such a way that avoids pigeonholing and defaults to easy labeling. For many of those on the left, if something doesn’t fit the progressive narrative, it is immediately labeled conservative. The same goes for those on the right. When our blog doesn’t include more self-identified progressive guest writers, it is called conservative. On the other hand, we’ve been called leftists in many comments on our blog posts (you’ll find some upon on a quick perusal). 

This pigeonholing reveals a misconception regarding the very nature of the via media. The power and beauty of the via media is that it isn’t a position; it’s a process. The via media is not about adhering to one static set of standards; it is a hermenutic, an interpretive lens, that draws from the best of a variety of paradigms — from progressives and conservatives alike— with prayerful discernment. It stands firmly in the tradition of the Wesleys, who were both/and folks: evangelical and sacramental, concerned with personal holiness and social holiness, committed to tradition and innovation. This does not mean that those of us in the via media lack core convictions; just the opposite! We believe in the need for doctrine, and Stephen, Drew, and I embrace orthodoxy as elucidated in the creeds of the church along with a strong and thoughtful social witness. We believe we need both progressive and conservative voices — along with those who don’t adopt either label — to truly have a via media.

Where we have failed to account for multiple voices or have mischaracterized them, we apologize. We are, after all, human. But we ask that you, dear reader, refrain from pigeonholing or thoughtless labeling. All that does is perpetuate the culture of echo chambers that has so damaged our society. Listen to us; engage with us; tease out that rich nuance between progressive and conservative. Make this a spiritual discipline.

Pigeonholing is easy. Don’t take the easy way out.

As always, we welcome your comments.

Mark Driscoll’s Lesson for the UMC

MD meme

It’s tempting…but don’t do it.

Controversial uber-Reformed pastor Mark Driscoll is temporarily stepping down from his leadership post at the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church.  Following a great deal of controversy about his public and private behavior, he has agreed to a leave of absence to assess his ministry and allow time for the church to investigate a long list of charges against him.  I cannot say I am always above the popular schadenfreude that enjoys gloating over the misfortunes of those I dislike. (See Proverbs 24:7 for more on why this is a problem.)  It is unfortunate how easily we all, with the aid of social media and the concomitant self-obsession with our own thoughts, turn to outrage in the face of dysfunction and pain.  In the light of Driscoll’s temporary resignation and the reaction following, I think there are some lessons for the current strife in the UMC.  Part of last Sunday’s message from Driscoll included this:

“God is not honored by conflict, strife, disunity, arguing, slander, gossip, or anything else that is inconsistent with the fruit of the spirit, and I am deeply sorry, genuinely sorry, for the times I have not lived peaceably with all men,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll has, for years, been on the giving and receiving end of social media (and regular media) criticism.  Few other Christians in the public sphere have received as much sustained ire as he.  And so it is refreshing to see such a humble response from someone not usually known for them.  That gives me hope for my own tribe.

As Florida Bishop Ken Carter has written, we must “do the work of Jesus in the way of Jesus.”  We may or may not agree with where the UMC is regarding some matters or where it may be heading.  In a big tent denomination, there will be differences among us.  That should be a strength, and I believe it is – but that strength becomes a weakness if we approach difference the way the world does: with conflict, slander, strife, and disunity.

Surely if Mark Driscoll can take a step back and reevaluate his own ministry and behavior, we in the UMC can as well.  2016 is just around the corner.  Will we contribute more resentment and strife to the world and to the church, or will we find a way to do the work of Jesus in the way of Jesus?

What’s Missing (Guest Post by Dennis Sanders)


Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) logo, courtesy Wikipedia.

I’m not a Methodist, but I do play one during the week.

My name is Dennis Sanders.  I’m an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I’m a bivocational pastor, spending Sunday and a few hours during the week as the pastor of First Christian Church of St.Paul in the nearby suburb of Mahtomedi.  During the week, I’m the Information Technology person at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, MN.  Drew McIntyre suggested a I write a little introduction about myself and the state of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

I’ve been a Disciple for nearly 20 years and I’ve been a mainline Protestant for since the early 90s, a time when I started to move away from the evangelicalism of my youth.  For the most part, it has been a good fit, a place where I can be the best Christian God wants me to be.

But as much as I love my denomination, I’ve become concerned over time that we Disciples don’t do much reflecting on what it means to do ministry in this day and age.  We aren’t equipping churches to meet the demands of this new time and we are not creating new faith communities in a sustainable manner.

None of this is to say that nothing is taking place.  Faith communities are being planted through Disciples Church Extension for example.  Communications Ministry and Board of Christian Unity have produced a wonderful resource on Disciples identity.  All of this is good; what isn’t good is that there has been little if any thoughtful discussion on the state of our movement, where it’s headed, what should be change, and who will do this.  What’s missing is a real discussion on mission and ministry.

As is the case in most progressive Christian denominations what we tend to talk about are related to political and cultural issues of the day.  I think some of that discussion is needed- as an openly gay man, I do want churches to be a place where fellow gays and lesbians know that they are fully welcomed.  I want to talk about how to help the poor or how to seek other solutions than war.  Progressive Christians are right in saying these issues need to be talked about over and over and solutions must be provided.  Where Progressives fall short is that too often than not conversations on politics and culture tend to crowd  out other substantial discussions such as mission, ministry and discipleship.  It’s important to talk about the inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church, but if we aren’t also talking about how to keep churches healthy, how to make disciples, there may likely be no churches that have opened God’s tables to LGBT folk.

This is one the reason I am a bit jealous of you Methodists in having a resource like Via Media Methodists.  VMM (and groups like Confessing Christ in the UCC) are helping your faith traditions keep the main thing the Main Thing.

My hope is to find like-minded Disciples who would like to follow in VMM’s footsteps and create a group of our own ready to walk together and learn how to be God’s church in this day and age.

Dennis Sanders is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is currently pastor of First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota.  He lives with his husband Daniel in Minneapolis and blogs at The Clockwork Pastor.


Help Us With Upcoming Interviews: Grant Hagiya, Elaine Heath, & Steven Manskar (#WesleyCast)

Sennheiser microphon, via Creative Commons License.

Sennheiser microphone, via Creative Commons License.

This week, we will be conducting interviews for future episodes of the #WesleyCast with three outstanding United Methodist leaders:

  • Grant Hagiya is Bishop of the Greater Northwest Area of the United Methodist Church and author of Spiritual Kaizen.  Prior to being elected Bishop, he was appointed as the Executive Director of the Center for Leadership Excellence, a joint position between the California-Pacific Annual Conference and the Claremont School of Theology, where he served as the Director of Leadership for the annual conference and a faculty member at the Claremont School of Theology.

  • Elaine Heath is a Professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, United Methodist elder, and the author of numerous books on evangelism and mission.  She is a sought-after speaker and is a leading voice for and active leader in Wesleyan missional communities, particularly through her role as co-founder and Executive Director of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.

  • Steven Manskar is a clergy member of the Minnesota Conference of The United Methodist Church and currently serves the General Board of Discipleship as Director of Wesleyan Leadership.  Steven writes and leads workshops and seminars on Covenant Discipleship groups, Small Group Ministry in the Wesleyan Tradition, and Wesleyan leadership, theology and practice. He leads two annual events: The Wesley Pilgrimage in England and Wesleyan Leadership Conference.

Like we said, these are three outstanding Wesleyan leaders! We are ecstatic to share wisdom from these folks, and we want you to help us do the best possible job.  Here’s how you can be of assistance:

  • Leave questions for one or more of these leaders in the comments section on this blog post or in our Facebook group.
  • Leave questions or share your favorite resource from one of these authors on Twitter using #WesleyCast.
  • Listen to these interviews once they are released, share the podcast on Twitter or Facebook and give us a review on iTunes if you already haven’t, and – as a bonus – you will be entered to win a free book or other swag related to one of these fascinating Wesleyan thought leaders!

Finally, thank you to all of our readers and listeners for spreading the word and encouraging this ministry – we couldn’t do it without you!


We Go Forward by Looking Back: The Via Media

Communion of the Apostles, by Fra Angelico. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Communion of the Apostles, by Fra Angelico. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

What became of the Wesleyan/Anglican Via Media? A friend of VMM, Rev. Kyle Cuperwich, brought an excellent article to our attention.  This is itself a chapter from a book by William de Arteaga, a charismatic Anglican priest and scholar.  He argues that, though the Wesleyan revival was viewed with suspicion by the Anglican establishment, the movement had the potential to renew something quintessential to its mother church:

“Although it was not noticed at the time, the Wesley brothers presented the Anglican Church with a grand opportunity to reestablish and refresh its central ideal, the via media.[38] In the vision of Richard Hooker and the other founders of Anglicanism, the via media was the special grace of the Church of England. It was to take the best insights of Reformation theology, especially is evangelical stress on salvation by grace alone, and combine them with the spiritual disciplines and sacramental worship of the traditional church.”

This “best of both worlds approach” that was original to the Elizabethan Settlement was revivified by John and Charles, and then some:

“The Wesley brothers did exactly that, and more. They brought passion to both the Evangelical and Catholic sides of the balance. They were better Evangelicals than most Protestants, and, at the same time, better at the disciplines of the spiritual life and more loyal to sacramental worship than most Catholics.”

It’s also worth pointing out, vis-a-vis the Eucharist, that the Wesleys out-celebrated the Anglicans of their day.  Most of us think of Anglicans today as very tied to sacramental worship, but in Wesley’s day most Anglicans only communed a few times a year, and only once was required by the church.  This sacramental companion to the evangelical revival is something missed by many Protestant evangelicals today.

What became of the Via Media, though?  Though Methodism, especially, in North America, would go on to have great success, the Via Media (re-)established by the brothers Wesley would be largely lost.

“On the other side, the Methodists, away from the Anglican Church, eventually lost the Catholic component of the via media. This is not to say that Methodism was in any way a failure, for the Nineteenth Century would see its spectacular triumph in America (next chapter), as well as its substantial growth and influence in the United Kingdom. But the Methodists at the end of the Nineteenth Century were far from what the Wesley brothers had planned or imagined. Most significantly there was a serious decline in sacramental worship as the Methodists began looking more and more like other Protestant groups.”

Thus, as we seek a middle way for today’s Methodists, we do well to remember the Via Media at its best: passionately evangelical and deeply Sacramental.  Protestant in ethos and Catholic in practice.  Preaching for conversion and praying for sanctification.  As many in the ecumenical movement argued for decades, we go forward together by looking back, by recovering the best of who we are for the 21st century church.

What would that Via Media look like today? Where do you see it re-emerging?


God is Not Through with Us

wesley monogram

John Wesley’s personal monogram.

The following is a statement that the curators of Via Media Methodists, along with a few other clergy colleagues, have drafted in an attempt to articulate common theological and ecclesial ground in the midst of dissension and fragmentation. We welcome your thoughts. 

God is Not Through With Us: A Statement of Methodists United

“Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”
-Mark 10:9 (CEB)

We are a group of United Methodists who recognize that we are living in difficult times. We confess that we, too, have not always been faithful to our common covenant; our fears, frustrations, and perspectives have at times caused us to demonize, slander, and ignore our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yet in the midst of our brokenness, now more than ever we are committed to unity:

  • Our worship and adoration of the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — unites us.
  • Our baptismal covenant unites us.
  • Our Eucharistic fellowship around the one table of God unites us. It is at the table where we pray together for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and make us ‘one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world’.
  • Our submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ unites us.
  • Our commitment to Scripture as authoritative for Christian faith and practice, along with the aid of tradition, experience, and reason unites us.
  • Our common mission of love and service to the world unites us.
  • Our daily witness through our congregations and other ministries unites us.
  • Our call to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world unites us.
  • Our need for and celebration of God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace unites us.

While we acknowledge disagreement among us, we do not support acts that intentionally breach the covenant to which we have voluntarily and collectively submitted our lives through ordination and membership, or, conversely, which seek a false resolution to our divisions by further dividing the Body of Christ.

We are committed to the hard work of relationship and building bridges for conversation, forgiveness, conversion, and renewal. We are compelled to this vocation for the sake of our mission, which is best carried out by a church united “in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24).

  • We commit to praying daily for our church, her leaders, and her mission.
  • We commit to daily self-examination and confession.
  • We commit to listening to the Spirit and one another, and engaging in intentional speech that seeks to do good and does no harm.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


(VMM would like to thank the following for their wisdom in helping craft this statement: Rev. Kyle Cuperwich, Rev. Ben Gosden, Rev. Josh Hale, Rev. Juan Huertas, and Rev. Matt Rawle).


The Third Way as Christian Discipleship


Photo of Stanley Hauewas, courtesy of Flickr under Creative Commons License.

“Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

-Hebrews 12:11 (NRSV)

I very much enjoyed the dialogue between my friends Matt and Joel about the nature of the via media in the UMC.  I would like to add a personal rejoinder of my own to that conversation.  Yes, I would agree that the Via Media or Third Way is about priorities rather than just positions.  I would also say, as I’ve told Matt, that it is also about tone.  But perhaps there’s another, deeper element at play – at least for me.  

In Unleashing the Scripture, Stanley Hauerwas writes something I’ve heard him say in person on more than one occasion:

“…I call myself a pacifist in public because I am obviously so violent. Hopefully by creating expectations in you about me, you will help keep me faithful to what I know is true.” (64)

What Hauerwas says about his identity as a Christian pacifist, I would also claim for my identity as a Third Way/Via Media Methodist.  I hinted at this at the NYAC dialogue: I am not a “middle way” person because I am especially moderate or tepid.  As Allan Bevere said in our recent interview, we Middle Way folk are people of deep convictions – and one of those deep convictions is that neither the left nor the right have a monopoly on the gospel or the Wesleyan Christian witness.

More than once, I’ve had people call me out for things I’ve said by reminding me of my own commitments to raising the level of discourse and being the change I want to see in the church.  At the time, such accountability is frustrating, and I resent it.  The author of Hebrews wasn’t joking when he said discipline is never pleasant when it happens.

But I’ve come to appreciate this insistence by others that I live up to what I have claimed.  Like Hauerwas, I claim this identity so publicly, not because I have achieved all the virtues necessary to live it out, but because I need others to keep me true to the life for which I am aiming.

The truth is, I can often be an extremist, judgmental jerk – just like I was in my fundamentalist days.  Whenever I fool myself into thinking I have exorcised this particular demon, its hideous head pops up again. This is not who I wish to be, and its not who I want to be.  It is not who the church has called me, through baptism and now ordination, to be.  So I thank you, my friends near and far, for keeping me faithful to what I know is true, for caring enough to expect from me (to cite Lincoln) the better angels of my nature.

A crucial aspect of Wesleyan discipleship is a combination of radical grace with high expectations for growth in holiness through the Spirit’s power.  I vividly recall Heitzenrater saying, of early Methodism in England, “it was very easy to become a Methodist, but it was hard to stay a Methodist.”

I ask for God’s grace, and your patience, that I – that we – might live out the highest ideals of the Christian life in all of our interaction.  If this project can move the needle one millimeter in that direction, I will consider it this a smashing success and a great gift from God.

May the Triune God draw us all nearer to the Crucified, and nearer to each other, that we might be salt and light in a bland and dark world.  Peace.


Via Media Methodists Respond to A&W Plan: Part 3 (Trust)

When I was growing up, a very large church down the road had an interesting structure. The entire church operation was in the pastor’s name. His name was on the deed to the buildings, the land, the school, the bank account; it was all in the senior pastor’s name. His dad had founded the church and had handed it down to his son as the successor. The family was in charge of everything. The pastor’s spouse was in charge of the school. I thought this was very strange to have everything under the control of one person and one family, but the people who attended the church didn’t seem to mind. It had always been like this and they saw no reason in changing it because they trusted their pastor implicitly. They trusted that this man of God was never going to do anything wrong.

I see church in a very different way than these folks. Church is not something that I control, but something I am the rector over. Take the church I currently serve. It was planted over 207 years ago, and has been a living part of this community ever since. None of the people in the congregation planted the church. None of them were in the 2nd wave or the 3rd wave or 4th wave or even the 5th wave. They are here because of folks that were here before them. They are here because of pioneers who were willing to lead the way. I am appointed their shepherd for this time, but I know one day someone else will be their shepherd. This is not just the United Methodist system, but all church systems. No matter how long we stay in one place, eventually we have to hand it over to someone and let it go.

My friends Evan and Drew have reviewed the A&W plan in in part 1 and part 2 of this series much more in depth than I could, so I want to look at an underlying issue. I want to talk about the trust clause. Trust clauses are part of denominations that hold their property together in a trust as a body. Instead of the pastor’s name or the trustee’s name on the property deed, The United Methodist Church “holds the property in trust.” I had a friend recently lament to me that if the trust clause is the only thing keeping us together, then maybe we should let it go. What if the issue is not the trust clause but trust?

What if the deepest issue in United Methodism today is that we just don’t trust one another? This can manifest itself in a myriad of different ways, such as doctrinal erosion, labeling, name calling, and even wanting to shed ourselves of some of our churches. My District Superintendent called it a deficit of trust in the system. Maybe a lot of this deficit of trust is cause by the system itself. We have pastors who are placed in appointments and then judged on how well they meet certain tick marks on checklist sheets. We have pastors who graduate from seminary with expectations to change the church and manifest the kingdom of God only to find out that the real world isn’t that neat or easy. We have pastors who wrestle with faith, doubt, fear, and real issues that you can’t just dismiss.

Maybe my cynical friend is right. If the only thing keeping us together is the trust clause then maybe we should just do away with it. Let everyone out who wants out. Let people keep their property, their retirements, their congregations, and just become an independent, vaguely denominational church. Let the folks on the right leave and the folks on the left. Come up with some ritual of leaving for the occasion. Put annual conferences in charge of sorting it all out. Have a year or four of jubilee where all the churches that want out have a chance to do so.

Maybe I am naive, but I still believe in the resurrection. It is going to take some dying, but we can be the church of John & Charles Wesley again. In the words of Paul, we are going to have to die to our selves so we can truly be raised in Christ.

  • We are going to have to give up our ideas of a pure or perfect church. (I don’t believe this idea of church is possible in our broken world).
  • We are going to have to give up our exclusive claims to words like justice and orthodoxy.
  • We are going to have to give up the idea that all United Methodist churches will look alike and worship alike and believe alike. (If you know me, this one is hard for me)
  • We are going to have to learn how to trust other sinners. (This is only possible with reclaiming Wesley’s class meetings)

There is something I am only beginning to discover as I turn 40.

The church universal, of which the United Methodist Church is part of, is not mine.

It’s Christ’s. All I know that this sinner can do is play my part and trust that God will bless my insignificant effort.

How about you? Are you ready to trust again?