United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase stated in an address:
"We United Methodists must stop blaming societal circumstances and denigrating other religious movements and denominations. God is not finished with United Methodism. Let every congregation devote a full weekend at the church, from Saturday morning until Sunday evening, engaged in casting our anchor into the future."
My mother was a Methodist, and as far back as the first days of American Methodism, every member of her family was either Anglican or Methodist. My cousin is a retired United Methodist minister. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for American Methodism. In regard to Bishop Schnase's observations, what might be our responses?
Are Nazarenes busy blaming societal circumstances for the way things are in many places in our great church?
Have we settled for a calcified, institutionalized presence in an ever-changing environment? Our world contracts and expands with every change of economics, geopolitical events, and cultural mores. Perhaps we have forgotten that we are to be a pilgrim people: nomads, agents of salt and light. If we become anchored to the values of the dominant culture, the result is grand, inflexible institutions that lack the agility to pervade that culture. Have we inadvertently isolated ourselves from the cauldron of change that requires creative contributions, preferring instead the dubious privilege of hurling epithets of criticism?
Because of the shifting complexity of our times, any congregation that wishes to remain undisturbed yet relevant to the culture will inexorably go through change.
Are we guilty of denigrating other movements or denominations?
The relative anonymity of the Internet with the ubiquitous presence of social media sometimes provides a cover for some amazing commentary. Alien theological constructs have introduced the leaven of fundamentalism into our conversations and made it easy to create straw people behind which lurk all manner of challenges.
Within the larger Body of Christ, could there be potential connections for our congregations to engage in collaborative devotion, repentance, and renewal in our shared Wesleyan context of the pursuit of holiness of heart and life? By seizing these connectional opportunities for serious reflection, prayer, and collaboration, we can leave behind fear of contamination and preference for institutional exclusivity.
Could we create an agenda for reflection similar to what the good bishop described in his statement?
History shows us the futility of attempting to replicate original moments and movements. There may be patterns for renewal, but we look in vain for replicable blueprints by which to construct such events. If we were to follow such patterns, the obvious ones would be:
- Inventory: What has happened? Where have we come up short? Why are we gathered?
- Acknowledging our losses: Grieve what has happened to our community, church, or place.
- Repenting: Accepting personal and corporate responsibility, committing to change, offering and seeking forgiveness in Jesus' name.
- Learning and Relearning: Our mission, our resources, our obligations.
- Affirming: God's promises, power, and grace. Our potential and our place where God has positioned us as a congregation.
- Offering: Committing to renewal and documenting "next" steps that the Spirit reveals to us.
A local politician stared into a TV camera and said, "Our best days are not behind us - they are in front of us."
That's exactly how I feel about my church!
David J. Felter
Holiness Today, September/October 2012