In the Heart of the Connection
Rev. Dr. Matt Woodbery, Director of Connectional Ministries
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 (New Revised Standard Version)
For anyone paying attention to what’s happening to The United Methodist Church, these are times of great excitement – and for some, great anxiety. The denomination is in the midst of multiple discussions regarding how we shall live authentic lives after the example of Christ in a changing and seemingly chaotic world. This is true from the living room Bible study to the discussions between denominational leaders on the world stage we call General Conference. I will pick another time to write specifically about the way forward. But this time, I want to report to our readers that there are several intentional and incremental initiatives seeking the insights of congregations and Conference leaders that are taking place now under the leadership of Bishop Lawson Bryan.
First, for the past year, Bishop Bryan has convened a Strategic Initiatives Team which consists of Conference Lay Leaders, our General Conference Delegation leaders, District Superintendents (also known as the Cabinet), the Directors of Ministerial Services, Administrative Services, Congregational Development, Communications, and Connectional Ministries (also known as the Extended Cabinet), our Conference Pastoral Counselor, and the Office of Connectional Ministries. In this forum, which has met five times in the past year, these leaders have considered the challenges of our Conference and have begun to develop specific goals for the coming year and beyond while bonding as a team.
Concurrent with this forum has been the gathering of senior pastors from the top 25 churches by average worship attendance. Convened four times by Bishop Bryan, they have gathered to share their knowledge of the culture and vitality of local churches in the Conference and to join in intentional conversation about the challenges facing the Conference and denomination. Bishop Bryan has also met with groups of young clergy and Hispanic clergy with the same desire to gain insights and perspectives from these groups.
Today, Monday, Oct. 16, the Leadership Forum met at the Methodist Children’s Home in Macon. This forum was directed by the Annual Conference and consisted of key positional leaders of the Conference to gather “for prayer, dialogue, discernment, and stewardship of God’s vision for our common ministry as it is expressed through the South Georgia Annual Conference.” (2016 Annual Conference Journal, p. 26) This forum met to receive status reports on many areas of ministry and to begin shaping the processes for entering into conversations regarding the future proposals provided by the Commission on the Way Forward and the Council of Bishops in the coming months.
While these leaders of our Conference are gathering now and in the weeks to come I encourage you to visit the UMC.org website where you will find the most current information regarding the Commission on a Way Forward. Here at this site there is information about this special commission appointed by General Conference to deliberate about the future of The United Methodist Church. There is also a page on our Conference website dedicated to the news and developments of this historic time in the church.
I would also commend to you another separate initiative that may be useful as we gather to consider who we are as Christians called Methodists. Entitled “Wonder, Love, and Praise,” it is a thorough description of United Methodist beliefs and practices. The study itself is still in draft form and the Council of Bishops would like feedback from you and your church or Sunday school class on this study. You can find study materials and videos here.
In a time where people are trying to understand on which side of the discussion they stand, “Wonder, Love, and Praise” seeks to capture those elements of what makes Methodism unique in the life of the Church universal. Stand by for more information on how your small group or congregation can provide this needed input to this important initiative.
I will conclude by pointing to the scripture offered at the beginning of this column. No matter how complex and chaotic our lives – or the life of our church – may seem, Jeremiah’s proclaiming God’s promise of the reward of our trust in our everlasting and faithful God remains a truth of comfort and hope. With that promise, we may remain alive, together, in Christ!
From the Heart of the Connection,