The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches
March 1, 2019
The mission of The United Methodist Church is to make “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” After the 2019 Special Session of General Conference, few are paying attention.
Our unique Wesleyan DNA places a particular emphasis on God’s grace and Christian living. The world witnessed the division and conflict exhibited at General Conference in February with disbelief. How can such hurtful words and actions come from Christians known as United Methodists?
A few observations:
1) Decades long conflict over human sexuality continues to undermine and obscure our mission. There is no mission and there is no vision for a denomination at war with itself.
2) We are divided; minds are already made up. Churches know where their congregation stand. Clergy have each come to their own conclusion. Lay people know where their convictions are leading them. Arguing theological and Biblical points of contention will not change deeply held beliefs. It feels like trench warfare, going nowhere, that never ends.
3) Our differences are irreconcilable. We are a global church with great diversity of world views, beliefs, and experiences. The negative side effect of diversity are cries of discrimination. Instead of celebrating the benefits of diversity, we have allowed our differences to usher evil, injustice, and violence into space that should be Holy and safe.
4) The authority of our bishops was significantly undermined when their recommended One Church Plan never made it out of committee and the Traditional Plan was passed 53% to 47%. I wonder how effective our bishops will be in carrying out the discipline of the Traditional Plan.
5) There is nothing Holy about conferencing. Winners are often those who work Robert’s Rules of Order more effectively than losers. Many pray for the Holy Spirit to come, then shut it out with points of order.
6) Reading reflections and listening to many colleagues and lay members makes it clear everyone lost the battle, the wounded are being dragged away, blood trails are everywhere, no one knows where to go next. This is a time of waiting. Leaders who led this bloody fight to a stalemate have had their pride and privilege exposed. Who wants to be led by those who would sacrifice the Church of Jesus Christ simply to get their own way?
My personal, prayerful, vision moving forward:
1) Cease fire. Stop fighting. End the violence. Lay down all weapons, leave the trenches, be brave enough to walk across no-mans land, and extend a hand of love and charity to those so bitterly opposed. Love enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. The world is watching our behavior and listening to our rhetoric. It better be genuine.
2) Repent. It’s time for sack-cloth and ashes. Let us vow never to allow ourselves to so harm each other ever again. Those who led us to the abyss should surrender authority. Pride, privilege, and ego nearly killed us; it’s time for humility, confession, reconciliation, and love.
3) Agree to a graceful, amicable divorce. No one gets the house. Assets and liabilities should be fairly divided. Allow the divorce to extend to the basic element of Christian faith: the local church.
4) Strip the Discipline of the United Methodist Church of everything except for a common Christ-centered theology with a Wesleyan emphasis on grace. Allow the global United Methodist Church to become an umbrella under which all those of like minds and hearts are encouraged and welcomed to gather.
5) Three beautiful plans are already on the table. Each speaks to a particular group of United Methodist. Each plan could serve as the groundwork for establishing three new denominations moving forward, united by a global United Methodist communion. Encourage clergy, laity, congregations to organize and affiliate with those most closely aligned to their beliefs and conscience.
6) End the fallacy of holy conferencing. Replace it with the Holy Spirit. Make sacred and Holy space for discernment. This requires establishing relationships and building trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of others as well as at work in my own life. What will this looks like? I don’t know; but I’d love to explore the possibility further.
1) I will love the people who are entrusted to my pastoral care and will serve to the best of my ability as their spiritual leader.
2) I will listen, counsel, love, and pray with all people, regardless of their theological and Biblical beliefs.
3) My sack-cloth and ashes will be a disciplined tongue and tempered behavior that contributes to healing.
4) I will pray and discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in others and in myself. I will look to movement in our Episcopal leaders, our District Superintendents, and our conference delegates, giving them the safe space necessary for progress to be made. I will listen to colleagues and laity alike, listening for the Holy Spirit at work, watching for the presence of the Spirit’s fruits.
5) I will remain true to my ordination vows, to the very best of my ability. I will serve where called and submit when it is the Spirit’s will.
I look forward to the day when we will bring laser clarity to our mission as United Methodists, when our every effort moving forward is to glorify Jesus Christ and to propagate his Gospel, when we can be united by the love and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Love, always- Pastor Todd