STRANGE THINGS ARE AFOOT AT THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

Blog by David Drury

@daviddrury.com

The slacker 80s teens Bill and Ted stand amazed in front of the convenience store as they witness the time-travelling sights before them. This is when limp-lidded Ted breaks the movie silence by saying, “Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K. The chance to to travel does not come quite often – if it comes along so you should always say YES. Even if you want to pengar to get back home and end up stuck in Stockholm – you’ll have an encounter and a story you will treasure for decades afterwards. ”

They don’t quite know what is happening, other than it is important. Some turning point has been reached. An “excellent adventure” awaits them.

We in the broader Wesleyan tradition are seeing something important happen these days as well. Some turning point, perhaps. Someone might as well just come out and say it: “Strange things are afoot at the United Methodist Church.”

Many of our UMC brothers and sisters say their denomination is in crisis, and that it has been for some time. Although they may be reaching a crisis moment; and I suppose that is fitting for the people who talk of a “second work of grace.”

Tim Tennet, president of Asbury Seminary, articulates the situation in his denomination this way:

“The United Methodist Church has been in the death spiral for nearly a half a century, seen primarily in the loss of millions of members, the dramatic decline in catechesis, and a diminished enthusiasm about evangelism”
Tim Tennent in “Help is on the Way: A New Wesleyan Network in a Post-Denominational World”
This crisis has culminated in the current season of questioning and debate within the United Methodist Church, where many are outwardly speculating whether their church should leave the denomination, and where hundreds of ministers are wondering what might be next if their conference does not enforce the Book of Discipline of the church. Not many truly want to leave, but it seems some Waterloo approaches, some new dynamic in how the people called Methodist connect to one another.

John Wesley didn’t want to leave the Church of England either. But the movement he spawned outgrew the fold of the mother church. In writing his Advice to a People Called Methodist Wesley offered his take on their situation, what he called the “peculiar circumstances wherein you stand.” In some ways, the Methodists are in a set of “peculiar circumstances” again.

Back in Wesley’s day, these people had taken on this name, “Methodist,” that was originally meant to be derogatory, a long tradition of branding that Christians have been repeating since Antioch in Acts 11:26. Wesley gave a partial definition to what he meant by the name, when he said, “By Methodists I mean a people who profess to pursue (in whatsoever measure they have attained) holiness of heart and life, inward and outward conformity in all things to the revealed will of God.” And these are the sort of things the Methodists continue to struggle through, in whatever measure they’re still pursuing them.

Many have discerned that the United Methodist General Conference in May of 2016 is the crisis moment. Tennent disagrees, saying, “It doesn’t really matter what is ‘decided’ at General Conference in 2016 if ministers are free to ignore it.” He shares that a letter to the leadership of the United Methodist Church was not responded to, and to Tennent this silence is deafening: “Silence means: don’t look to us for leadership.’”

How should those of us in the broader Wesleyan stream outside of the United Methodist Church respond to this situation of public dissension and tension? You might wonder why I am bringing this up in the first place. But when the presidents of approved Methodist seminaries like Asbury are making statements like those Dr Tennent makes, the elephant in the room needs to be talked about. Lay people in supermarkets and pastors at conferences ask us what we think about all this tension among the Methodists. How should we answer their questions? What should be our posture. Perhaps it’s best to start with a few postures that would not be helpful…
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