I’ve been the pastor of Mosaic Church for more than fifteen years, so my relationship with many in our community is deep. We are a small but healthy church, with a core (but certainly not a majority) of people who care about the direction of the UMC. After the 2016 General Conference, we began holding listening sessions to help folks make sense of what was happening. In those conversations, we affirmed that we are a diverse group, as most any American congregation would be. We had solid, honest discussions together and many deep one-on-one conversations over coffee.
All this is to say that long before this year’s General Conference, those in our congregation who were interested or invested in the discussion had their chance to work out their own thoughts and our mutual relationships. I’ve been so gratified by our ability to work through differences with kindness and respect.
Placing my own theological leanings within the framework of a “centered-set model” seems to have helped us. Centered-set thinking allows us all to understand how we fit together. As appointed leader of our congregation, I teach an orthodox Wesleyan theology, understanding that others are on a journey, too, that may or may not put us in complete agreement. We all understand, however, that there is a set of beliefs at our center from which we can work. Even among newcomers, centered-set thinking has offered a comfort level for stepping into our community. Guests are welcomed as they are and where they are and don’t have to have it all figured out for us to love and respect one another.
As a church, we pray for the UMC and care deeply about the Body of Christ. Some of us grieved over the bedlam of St. Louis, but we haven’t allowed this crisis to define or control us. Not by a long shot. In fact, Mosaic has experienced a 20% increase in attendance since this time last year. Most of that growth is due to on-going vital ministries that invite new believers, non-believers and frustrated wanderers into a conversation about what they believe about the world and God.
These days, my prayers for our tribe are focused on theological revival. I believe the coming revival will be theological. If this year’s General Conference has taught us anything, it is that what you believe matters. Spiritual awakening will happen as folks get serious about understanding what they believe and what makes us Methodist. Methodism is not defined by institutional unity. It is not our affinity for each other that binds us, though that is certainly a gift (I love my colleagues in ministry deeply). It is not our commitment to an institution, though I owe a great deal to the United Methodist Church for helping me live out my call. It is not even our commitment to serving folks, though the United Methodist Church has a marvelous missional arm that serves globally among poor and marginalized people.
What makes us Methodist is what we believe about the nature and role of Jesus Christ, the authority of scripture, our understanding of God’s grace, and particularly the role of sanctification in the life of a believer. This is what connects and distinguishes us. While I don’t believe progressive and orthodox United Methodists can remain in the same tribe due the wide theological gap between us (nor should we; it holds no integrity), I am praying with many others that our separation can look more like multiplication than division and that we can honor one another in the process. I am praying that our separation provides a witness that our staying together can’t. I’m praying that we can be gracious toward one another, finding ways to bless one another (as a colleague has so eloquently said) as we work through the details of a separation.
I pray that we will be kind. I hope you will pray that prayer with me.
I certainly hope this season can birth something new (and soon) that allows us all to move on in ministry with integrity, no longer biting and devouring one another but loving deeply, from the heart. Wouldn’t it be something if this separation/ multiplication actually exposes the Kingdom of Heaven in the process of its birthing? Wouldn’t it be something if we even saw the glory of God?
Wouldn’t that be just like our Redeemer? Beauty from ashes, the oil of gladness poured over our mourning, the spirit of praise instead of a spirit of despair.