This week I’m attending this year’s session of the Mississippi Annual Conference. I feel that since they are paying for part of my seminary education, I should continue to participate in the life of my home annual conference with my presence, even now when I don’t have voice or vote on the plenary floor. I have thoroughly enjoyed connecting with several friends and witnessing the business side of the church in action. I know many people who don’t enjoy this part of being a United Methodist but I actually look forward to it. I will even get another dose of the fun next week when I represent Shiloh at the session of the Kentucky Annual Conference in Bowling Green.
The practice in Mississippi for as long as I have been part of the Annual Conference has been to deal with matters pertaining to church closures on the final day, but instead, they made this one of the first items of business. As has been extensively covered in Methodist media, two congregations – The Orchard and Getwell – reached agreements to leave the Mississippi Annual Conference. These disassociations have been very controversial so apparently, the decision was made to go ahead and deal with these official closures.
While sitting in the gallery, I heard several passionate speeches about the situation and the closing of churches in general. By far, the best speech was one given by Rev. Chris McAlily whose father, Bishop Bill McAlily, was the founding pastor of Getwell. The closure of churches is always painful but, as Chris stated, this is different because we were not dealing with the death of congregations. Instead, we were finalizing a divorce.
I am very disappointed that these congregations chose to leave. Both congregations cited the human sexuality issue as a “distraction” to their ministry and, therefore, decided that leaving was their best course of action. May God bless their ministries. These are still brothers and sisters in Christ and I wish them nothing but the best. I remain disappointed and, to a degree, angry over this situation. I still, however, hope their ministries are fruitful and that God does great things through them.
But I maintain that, now, leaving is not the best course of action.
There may come a time when I and many others may have to discern whether remaining part of the United Methodist Church or if going elsewhere is in the best interest of my calling that God has given to me. Now is not that time. I remain hopeful that we can figure out some way to remain together so that the word “united” in United Methodist Church is not merely decoration or lip service. God has me at this table, I am attending a seminary that produces more United Methodist ordained clergy than any of the 13 official seminaries of the UMC, I am serving in a United Methodist congregation, and I intend to remain in the UMC until I feel that the time has come for me to go. But again I say, now is not that time.
My hope is that I am not alone.
That is why my profile picture on my Twitter and Facebook pages are the image at the beginning of this post. I made this image as a way of saying that I am still a UM and will remain so for the foreseeable future. This is also a declaration that I will continue to pray for the United Methodist Church and I remain committed to its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Do you feel the same way? I invite you to join this mini-movement and declare that you are a proud United Methodist and that you are not going anyway. Our first obligation and loyalty should absolutely be to God but if you are a United Methodist clergyperson or layperson, God has us here because this is where he wants us to work for him. If you feel the way I do, save the picture and use it on your social media. Use the hashtag #StillUM when making posts.
For those of us who are in the UMC, God has us planted here. Let’s bloom.