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?