These are interesting times in the life of the United Methodist Church. We are in a period of discernment about who we are and where we are going as a community. We’ve known this for some time, but the reality is ever more present as we approach the called General Conference in 2019.
Who we are is a pressing question for me, today, because I believe it is one we are not wrestling with as United Methodists as it relates to questions regarding Scripture, accountability, and, yes, human sexuality. It is also one I believe connects to some of our larger questions in society. Who are we as it relates to our divisions between larger churches and smaller churches? Who are we as it relates to our divisions between rural and urban culture? Who are we as it relates to our divisions between Republicans and Democrats?
Who are we?
These are not easy questions, because I believe they come with a greater recognition. We are living in the midst of a tectonic shift in the way we build community and express love among one another. A shift that is reminiscent of ones that occurred prior to the Great Schism of 1054, when eastern and western civilization and the church broke apart, and the Protestant Reformation, which included both the renewal of the church and society. In the periods leading up to both of these larger movements, we witnessed the church and society wrestle with similar questions to ones we are wrestling with today. Questions that center on who we are.
None of the questions we face today can be easily answered. They cannot be solved by passing legislation or creating new committees. They are soul-based questions that examine our identity, our relationships with one another, and, ultimately, our connection to God. To delve into these questions will require time, reflection, prayer, and honest conversations with one another.
We cannot engage in the processes that are needed today by resorting to what I call the “old tried and true” responses. The “old tried and true” responses are the ones we typically turn to when we do not want to face the reality that is in front of us. There are many things that we can place into our own “old tried and true.” It could be to merely express the talking points we read on the Internet regarding an issue. It could be to hold onto to what has worked in the past. It could even be to ignore the questions all together.
None of us are immune from having “old tried and true” responses that we bring out when we are faced with difficult questions. For the sake of openness and transparency, my “old tried and true” response when faced with difficult questions is to get frustrated by the process and time it takes to reach the answers that we need. It is a work in progress for me, but it is what I recognize in myself when I know we have to deal with important questions – whether in the church, my family, or in society – and the time it takes to answer them is longer than I initially planned.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of going to my “old tried and true” when it comes to dealing with the issues and questions that we need to face in the life of the church. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of looking past the difficult questions simply because they are too hard and cannot be easily solved. There is too much at stake for us to ignore what is in front of us.
I want to invite you to join me in embracing the difficult questions that are before us here at Ogden Memorial, Princeton, Kentucky, and throughout the world. Questions such as what does it mean for us to be the church in this time and in this place? How do we love and welcome people who may be different than us? How are we making disciples of Jesus Christ?
None of these questions can be answered in a short amount of time. They are long-term questions and they cannot be ignored. They get to the heart of our identity as a community, as a people, and who are in Christ.
I cannot tell you how we will answer these questions as a church, but I can tell you the process will be long, it will be difficult, but, in the end, it will be fruitful. I have that hope, because God often shows up when we wrestle with the deep questions of faith that get to the heart of who we are, whose we are, and where we are going in God’s love.