The idea of a United Methodist schism was mentioned a grand total of twice at Missouri’s Annual Conference session this past weekend. Once it was addressed directly and once it was hinted at. Both times the idea landed with a notable thud.
Safe to say, if it’s up to Missouri, the United Methodist Church is sticking together.
Mark Sheets hinted at it in the sermon on Sunday morning. His remarks were essentially what I said a couple weeks ago in my sermon here at Campbell - I’m not sure what’s going to happen in 2016, but we are Easter people! We believe in resurrection, and that makes all the difference.
Then Adam Hamilton mentioned it directly in his presentation Sunday afternoon. His position is well known, and many have signed onto the “AWay Forward” document, myself included. When he said that he hopes schism doesn’t happen, it was met with enthusiastic applause from the floor.
Other than those two brief moments, we really didn’t talk about it at all in any “official” capacity. I’m kind of hoping that it is as much of a non-issue in other conferences, including the biggie in Portland in May, 2016. We’ll see.
I was encouraged, renewed, and inspired at Annual Conference this year. I feel hopeful about the future of the church. Leadership sets the tone, and the tone set by the leadership of our conference was healthy, upbeat, and joyful, while at the same time realistic about the challenges that lie ahead.
I have a newfound respect for Adam Hamilton. I have always thought highly of him, but I thought his three presentations and sermon this weekend were somehow more real. It seemed as though he was more vulnerable or maybe … sincere? I don’t know exactly what it was. But I know for sure that he is a person wholly devoted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the health of the United Methodist Church, in that order. And he gives me hope for the future.
Bishop Schnase continues to be a leader who is not afraid to do things differently, which gives us as congregational leaders permission to do so, as well. His desire for healthy and vibrant congregations permeates everything he says and does. The pastors of Missouri United Methodism are inexpressibly lucky to serve with him.
Other Missouri leaders (Meg Hegemann, Emmanuel Cleaver III, Margie Briggs, Lucas Endicott, etc.) are focused on the work of the church, the mission of love and grace, the health of local congregations, the spiritual health of pastors, the transformation of the world, etc. You know, ordinary stuff that church leaders are supposed to be focused on.
This fact actually makes me worry. (Ironic, I know, but nevertheless…) Allow me to explain.
Here’s what I’m worried about. Folks in Missouri and other rational leaders in Methodism are going to be so focused on doing what we’re supposed to be doing, that the pro-schism voice is just going to grow gradually louder and louder until by May of 2016 it is going to catch us by surprise and before we know it, we’ll be voting on division.
I think it is sadly necessary for church leaders to say out loud in as many ways as possible, “We do not want a schism.” You can start by signing “A Way Forward.” You can speak up in a variety of ways to pastors, friends, and colleagues. Next year, before deciding for whom to vote as your General Conference delegates, ask them if they favor unity or division. And then vote accordingly.
I would rather not have to deal with this, either. But I’m worried that if we don’t, it will blindside us. The level-headed ones who are focused on doing church, focused on unity, focused on the mission … this very focus will ensure that our attention will be drawn from the schism conversation, and by next General Conference it will be too late. Addressing it is a regrettable necessity.
I honestly don’t know what will happen with the ideas those 80 unnamed leaders have advanced. As I said before, I believe in resurrection and so I am not afraid. I know that the body of Christ has been beaten and bloodied before, and rose again on the third day. So I am not afraid.
I simply don’t want us to be sitting there in June of 2016 wondering what in the world just happened in Portland. And what in the world are we supposed to do next?