Forward United is a gathering of traditionalist, centrist, and progressive United Methodists in my Annual Conference. This gathering is an alternative to the conference Wesley Covenant Association (WCA). Together we celebrated the common ministries and community provided by our United Methodist connection. The spirit of mutuality was evident. The new Global Methodist Church (GMC) was discussed but not derided. But comparisons in thought, theology, and approach to issues were taken into account by the leaders. 250 clergy and lay members attended, prayed together, ate together, and talked to each other. It is described as both conversation and conference. I look forward to more of these gatherings.
Forward in Hope
Where do you see hope? This question is being asked in more than simply the church. People ask that question about our secular societies and communities. Personally, I have given up on trying to inspire hope in other people. Seeing hope in other people brings out the gardener in me. I decide to nurture every first sprig of hope I see.
Hope is one of the “theological virtues” along with faith and love. We reflect the images of God and Christ in us when we have and nurture hope. St. Paul instructs the Corinthians that the greatest of these virtues in love. But he does not mean for them to neglect the other two. Hope then must involve love. Love for the people with whom we are in ministry is important. I see that in today’s gathering. It is something I do not see in many gatherings lately.
There is no hand-wringing going on here. I am impressed and pleased with this. Worry is not spoken. Some hard truths are. But they are not oppressive.
What Orthodoxy Means
A WCA leader in our area believes it is important that people know “an orthodox Methodist” congregation is in the community. It brings up the question. What do you mean by “orthodox?”
The first part of the word derives from one meaning “right” or rather “correct.” The other part is a little more tricky. Many argue the word derives from a term for “teaching.” Protestants rely on this definition But it could just as easily arise from the Greek word for “praise.” If it is about correct teaching, is there any room for differences of thought? If it is about right praise, what would that mean? The answer has more to do with right action or “orthopraxy.”
Christian prayer and praise is not about reciting the correct words. They are always about the right action being accompanied with humility and praise and prayer. During the gathering, one speaker discussed what it could mean to restore the practice of weekly celebrations of Holy Communion. He claims the practice should be the center point of United Methodist worship. I agree. Also, I want to add that it is not about the elements. The common table from which we receive the elements needs to be central in our worship spaces even at times we do not celebrate the sacrament. The altar symbolizes every person’s need for the same measure of grace. The baptismal font does too. Unfortunately it is put off to the side. But none of these symbols mean anything if the message of receiving and showing grace is lost.
The Way Forward
The 2019 General Conference was anything but the way forward. Some participants did not want it to be. But it demonstrates to many of us the need to go forward. The General Conference of 2019 became a contest where someone would win. But it was like winning on ebay. Some had buyer’s remorse.
The question remains. Can we truly go forward united? The answer is simple. It is not up to us. Jesus did not leave our unity in our hands.
His prayer, “I ask not only on behalf of these but on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me.” (John 17:20-21) Our unity is left up to God. The early days of the church are described, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)
The early church practiced what Jesus preached. Unity is in God’s care. Any disunity is the work of people who do not want it. One speaker plainly spoke similar words to us. As I said to a WCA member in my conference. “We may disagree; but God made us brothers.” He agrees with that. Why not practice it?