United Methodist Pope and Problems of Consolidation

There has been much fanfare about the restructuring plan for the UMC that will be presented to the 2012 General Conference. I just had a conversation with someone who recently came back from a meeting with a general agency of the church where the plan was explained. We had a wonderful conversation about the history of the UMC and our polity as it relates to the proposed legislation.

I have to admit that I am personally involved in this process as both a member of the Connectional Table that approved the proposed new structure and as a member of the Legislative Writing Team that has composed it. Although I disagree with key sections I have been faithful in my responsibility to write good legislation with the hope that holy conferencing and the wisdom of General Conference 2012 will correct the troublesome parts.

A primary concern for me is that we are allowing a business model to dictate ecclesiology. I know we’re in terrible economic times but that doesn’t give us license to overturn our polity for the sake of saving money. Actually I think the money-saving is a smoke-screen to hand more power over to the Council of Bishops. Our polity is based on the separation of powers. Our two constitutional powers in the UMC are episcopacy and conferences. They must be held in perpetual tension and balance. Judicial Decisions as well as the 2008 Book of Discipline are clear in this matter. For instance, Judicial Decisions 689 and 1156 are important citations. There are more!

The Constitution clearly states that “The Annual Conference is the basic body in the Church and shall have reserved to it the right to vote… on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members.” (Par. 36) The separation of authority and decision making is integral to the United Methodist Constitution and law. While the boundaries can become hazy in any particular situation, the preservation of the separation of powers must be observed.  (Judicial Decision 689, rendered in 1993)

The separation of authority and decision making is integral to the United Methodist Constitution and law. (Judicial Decision 1156, rendered in 2010)

In addition, Par. 140 of the 2008 Book of Discipline states, “Under the constitution and disciplinary procedures set forth in this Book of Discipline, “The United Methodist Church” as a denominational whole is not an entity, nor does it possess legal capacities and attributes. It does not and cannot hold title to property, nor does it have any officer, agent, employee, office or location.” Par. 2509 of the same BOD says that we are a non-jural entity, that we cannot be sued as a denominational whole because we do not exist as a denomination! Rather, our polity has affirmed since our very existence that we are a movement, a group of separately incorporated mission outposts for the Kingdom of God!

Unfortunately, the IOT/CT proposals for restructuring will set up a 15-member CENTER for Connectional Mission and Ministry and have a set-aside Bishop as one of its members and perhaps its chair. This certainly overturns Par. 140 of the BOD by creating both an office/location and an officer! Another frightening thought is that this CENTER’s only oversight will come from a 45-member group (The General Council for Oversight and Strategy) that will meet just once a year. Its chair will be the same set-aside bishop who will either lead or be a member of the CENTER for Connectional Ministry and Mission. For legal and fiduciary protection this is a wrong-headed idea. Legal counsel has already observed that having a denominational CENTER and OFFICER leaves the denomination open for wholesale litigation possibilities. This is a streamlined business model to be sure and saves a ton of money by reducing the costs of separate boards and agencies having to send 565 people to meetings but the cost to our historic polity, balance of powers, and core value of diversity will be greater than any savings.

A 15-member CENTER can hardly be inclusive of all the voices of the UMC. If the purpose of the legislation is to make the denomination more nimble and connect it more closely with annual conferences and local churches then this widens the chasm in my opinion. Voices will not be at the table and will not be heard! Having a quasi-pope from the Council of Bishops may make business sense, but it violates our historic separation of powers. We are a spiritual movement that needs bishops who will be leaders but not with one set-aside bishop. We need ALL the bishops to be set-aside IN THEIR ANNUAL CONFERENCES! We all know how little time bishops actually spend time in their annual conferences. Where are the teaching days? Where is the personal contact and interaction across annual conferences and in local churches? If we want local churches to be mission outposts then bishops must see their primary duty as being in their episcopal areas. How about a promise not to spend more than 21 days outside the annual conference? How about a promise to spend teaching days with laity and clergy in every district at least twice a year? How about a promise to spend time in each district staying in homes getting to know people and scheduling time with every clergyperson in each district over a quadrennium or maybe even twice every four years? How about a promise to be in each charge over a quadrennium? All these things and more come to my mind as a way for United Methodism to regain some of its relevance. It will be possible through personal connections! Personal connections make United Methodist Connectionalism work!

The proposal coming to GC 2012 is out of touch with 21st century flat-world thinking, and bishops and leadership have to be in touch to be relevant! There are cost-savings with the proposal but more centralization into smaller less diverse entities does not offer the hope for change that I’m looking for. It changes us from a spiritual movement into a more bureaucratic quagmire than we already are. I say free  up our bishops to lead on the local level. Don’t vote for a constitutional change that would allow one of them to be set-aside for quasi-pope duty. Don’t vote to abrogate the power of General Conference to set budgets and let the Council of Bishops be able to do it between sessions of the GC. Would you want your pastor to have the authority to change your local church’s budget? Heaven’s “NO!” Our connectionalism works best when the distance between leadership and people is bridged not widened. Connectionalism works best and is more theologically sound when it is horizontal not top down. We have tried top-down and it doesn’t work. I know that I can’t say everything that I need to say in this space, but I wanted to put some food for thought on the table as people are gearing up for next year. May God be with us as we discern together!

Community and World Communion

World Communion Sunday

I was reading a candidate’s ordination papers the other day and started pondering how we’re made in the image of God. There are those that say the imago dei is best reflected in a legal or  political way. That’s a sectarian triumphalist model that gives tacit, if not explicit, approval for humankind to exert dominion over creation. Drill, Baby, Drill – strip mine, do whatever you want to Mother Earth because it’s ours and God gave it to us.

I don’t think this is how we’re best reflective of God’s image. In my reading of Genesis 1:26 it is about a God who calls Godself “US” that makes humankind in God’s image. “Us,” of course, implies plural. Now I know we don’t worship a multiplicity of gods. The Ten Commandments make it very clear that God is one. However, we also experience God’s self-revelation as Trinity. What a conundrum? Three persons yet one God? But how marvelous! When we see one member of the Trinity at work, we see all three. They are distinct but indivisble.

Therefore, as I think about us being made in God’s image I see us clearly reflecting God’s social image. It’s simple. If God needs to dwell in the community that we call the Trinity how much more do we need to live and work together. We best reflect God’s image in community!

Tomorrow we have our Clergy Orders meeting. I’m looking forward to it. Our speaker is going to talk about our denomination’s future. That will be good, but best of all we will be together as a covenant community: sharing stories, catching up, laughing, worshipping, and communing. The best Orders meeting that we have ever had in my 34 years wasn’t even an Orders meeting. This past Annual Conference we were having elections for General and Jurisdictional Conferences. The laity finished before us so only the clergy were left to continue balloting. It was late at night and everybody was walking around between ballots with some watching a baseball game piped in on the 2 big screens that we use at conference. Others were tossing frisbees. All of us were having a good time. The buzz was so positive, so real! It was one of the most significant times I have ever had at Annual Conference!

Our whole society needs times like this when we just get together and move past the casual banter of chit-chat and actually fellowship with each other. Last week I went to our first home Gamecock football game at Williams-Brice Stadium. It was good to see longtime seatmates and catch up. We all got into the atmosphere. There were some new people around us. Maybe by season’s end we’ll share one another’s stories and get past the surface, “How are you?” Better yet, maybe what we need to do is take the band off the field at halftime and we’ll all go down there and meet each other, create a community that stretches from our private tailgating all the way to the hashmarks.

World Communion Sunday is coming up soon on October 2. What a great day to lay aside the drudgery of formality and actually commune with each other authentically. Our celebration of the Eucharist will perhaps become a hearty “Thanks be to God!” because just like the Trinity we all need each other. Community is what gets us through the tough times, the tumors, and the transitions. Community is a megaphone for our triumphs, too. I’m looking forward to community wherever I can find it and make it.

Starfish & Spiders – The UMC as a Starspider

The past seven days have been a whirlwind! Back from Nashville, Asheville, and about to head to Nicaragua on a mission trip. I was in Nashville for a Connectional Table meeting and then had the pleasure of preaching at Lake Junaluska on Friday night as well as doing a Bible Study on Sunday morning for the South Carolina Laity Convocation. We had fun and great fellowship – in both places.  Well, almost, except that the Connectional Table is at a critical juncture for the denomination.

In the midst of thinking about both the UMC and the South Carolina Annual Conference in particular I am struck by a nagging question: “Where is God leading us next?” In South Carolina we have much to celebrate. We’re the 5th largest annual conference in the US. Professions of faith are on the rise in the Columbia District and we paid out 98.9% on our connectional giving responsibilities. Putting this district’s numbers on a dashboard of vital congregations is exciting. I just got off the phone with one of the clergy in the district who is doing an absolutely phenomenal ministry in partnership with extraordinary laity. The church is booming! That same kind of good news is happening all over the district!

I wish I could say the same about the denomination. Maybe I can? Regretfully, however, I saw the DVD “UMC Realities” with its somber Gothic-sounding music and terrible news that we’re graying out, dying out, less inclusive, and have fewer and fewer young people. That was the message. It may not be the reality that I see in SC and in the Columbia District, but it’s so true in too many places. I have hope, though! Aesop was correct and it wasn’t a fable: “Where water has once flowed, it can more easily flow again.” The waters of baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit have been the current we’ve ridden on before in the UMC and God float this boat again!

I don’t think changing the UMC’s structure will have as much to do with it as folks at the Connectional Table think. The Interim Operations Team (IOT) has offered its report. We approved it, though we went through multiple iterations to get to a place of semi-consensus. Honestly, do we think that buying into a so-called new business model is going to reshape the church and engender hopeful enthusiastic results? I certainly hope we’re not that tied to 20th century thinking! Aren’t we all tired of hearkening back to the good old days that must not have been that good or we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in today? Isn’t Jesus the Lord of Resurrection which means that something has to die for there to be new life, that the New Jerusalem is our goal more than tired thinking that wants to go back to the Garden of Eden? Where we’re headed is better!

Just one example of old thinking that worries me from the Connectional Table’s work last week: a set aside bishop and a central office. Hey, I like bishops. I think they are critical for our denominational renewal, especially if they focus on their annual conferences. However, as the permutations of the IOT’s report dribbled out to the Connectional Table the set-aside Bishop was named at most the “Head of Communion” and at least “President of the Council of Bishops.” Either one is a little much for a denomination that has a historic balance between its two constitutive principles of conferences and bishops. This throws the equation off-balance. Now I can see why having a “United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry” and a quasi-pope are great business ideas to those who like  20th century-like corporate structures and centralization. I’m worried that our going from our current model of 13 siloed boards and agencies with 565 directors to one single center run by a 13 member Board of Directors is more of the same but worse.

I’ve got a book I want you to read. On our Columbia District Clergy Retreat in early September we’re headed to Mt. Mitchell for camping and reflection. We’re discussing the book The Starfish and the Spider with its subtitle “The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.” Pretty much it says that 21st century thinking is about organic growth with catalysts who step out of the way and people who are invested as equal partners. My summary with implications for the UMC: Connectionalism works best when its horizontal and/or circular! Starfish that lose a point grow a new one. When they’re cut in two, they don’t die, they multiply! A spider, on the other hand, dies when you smack its head. I tend to smack the whole bug and that’s what has happened to the UMC. We’ve  been smacked. We have lost a lot of our relevance to people because we don’t talk enough about Jesus and we don’t just get out there and be like starfish and multiply!

Central control systems are easily killed, and we’re about to put almost all of our institutional eggs in a couple of baskets – a set-aside bishop, a central office of ministry, and a small board of directors? Give me a break! Now I don’t want to give away the hopeful chapter at the end of the Starfish book but I will say this much: When we are at our best as a denomination we are starspiders, a hybrid of centralization and decentralization. Yes, there’s an important role for the Council of Bishops, General Conference, and the entities whether they’re called Boards and Agencies or some sort of central office. The bottom line is that all of these centralized functions MUST resource the decentralized local churches that live where the tentacles hit the sand! Growth is not top-down and that’s what bugs me about this report. Hey, by the way, just to put a polity/legal bug, pun intended, in your ear: read Pars. 140 & 2509 in the 2008 Book of Discipline and see what hits you. I look forward to your thoughts!

Connectionalism in Flight

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The United Methodist Church values diversity and celebrates each person’s contribution to the common good. We’re certainly not perfect, but we striving for it! I have heard of too many churches where the opposite is true. The wounded are shot and people major on the minuses. These churches have failed to be Fishers of People, as Christ has called us, and have instead become keepers of an ever-shrinking aquarium.
Take the Columbia District and its laity and clergy. As your District Superintendent I am glad to tell you how wonderful you are. In a state where unemployment in some regions has topped 20%, we’ve been blessed by a semi-stable local economy, and we know that we have been blessed to be a blessing to others. As a Connectional church we pool our resources for the common good of the Kingdom. As of this writing the Columbia District giving to Connectional causes is nearly 97%! Your faithfulness is helping those who aren’t as able to help themselves right now. I thank you!
I hope, without thinking me insane, that you’ll agree that our District is thriving because you have mastered the art of emulating geese. Next fall watch the geese heading south for the winter and you’ll understand. Watch their “V” formation. It’s a wonder of nature that we can all benefit from. Science has discovered why they fly that way. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. No wonder then that Christians who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier. Shared thrust will make a church really “fly!”
Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, and quickly gets back into formation, to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. If church members have as much sense as a goose we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way that we are going. When the lead goose gets tired, the goose rotates back in the “V” and another goose flies point. It pays to take turns doing hard jobs – with people at church or with geese flying south.
The geese near the rear honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. We all know how much an encouraging word helps us when we’re tired. When a goose gets sick, or is wounded by a shot and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow the lame goose down to help and protect him or her. They stay with the hurt goose until he or she is either able to fly, or until the goose’s death, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their original group. Maybe if people knew that we would stand by them like that in the church, they would push down the church walls to get in.
You see, all we have to do in order to keep attracting those who are missing to the church is to demonstrate to the world that we have as much sense as geese. That seems little enough price to pay to bring people to Christ and minister to one another. Even geese know that it works every time. Goose-life and United Methodism’s Connectionalism go hand in hand, and I celebrate it. Let’s keep up the good work. Let good honking abound!

Advocates for Service

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Wow, there are a lot of needs all around us. I just got back from our Columbia District Clergy meeting. We heard about The Cooperative Ministry that is helping the working poor. “Hootie & The Blowfish” Grammy-winner Jim Sonefeld was also there. He shared how God had brought him from a “dark place” and has given him a new life. A big part of that new life is to help others. He has teamed up with The Cooperative Ministry and the Benedict College Choir to produce a new version of their break-out single “Hold My Hand.” All the proceeds from purchasing the song go to The Cooperative Ministry. If you want to see a great video and hear a great song, plus make a donation; go to www.withalittlelove.org. This ministry speaks well of our theme as United Methodists: “Together We Can Do More!”

Connectionalism is our way of being and doing church. God made us in God’s image and God is Trinity, a community. So if God exists in community, how can we not? Unfortunately, the world sings a different song promoting individualism. Sure, some differentiation is a good thing, but isolation is horrible. We need each other. Therefore, to all the churches, even United Methodist ones, that want to be their own little silo without connectional responsibility – You’re missing out! Hiding and individualism gone amok is part of Adam and Eve’s hide-and-go-seek game after the debacle in the Garden.

So, I want to stay connected and do together what we can’t accomplish alone. One of the ways that I do that was also lifted up in our meeting today: “The South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.” For $15 bucks a year, you can find out all sorts of good things about our shared ministry in South Carolina. Now, I don’t always agree with the content, but it always makes me think. It gives us all a forum in SC United Methodism to share ministry, gain new ideas for Kingdom-service, grieve one another’s losses, and be better disciples for Jesus. If you want to learn more; go to www.scadvocate-online.org/home/ remembering “Together We Can Do More!”

Caught Between Time Zones, Cultures, & Grief

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I am spent, tired and probably need to be in the Azores to have some semblance of biological normalcy. It took 17 hours in flight to get to East Africa, and 17 to get back in 5 days. I’m no “spring chicken” and I feel the weariness. I am also emotionally drained from preaching my brother Carlee’s funeral yesterday. He was so special, and his devotion to family and our little historic hometown of Edgefield, SC was so complete. To capture him and our memories was both comforting and caused a degree of sadness. I miss him and those halcyon days of common joy. Nevertheless, he would want me to press on. That’s what I’m going to do. I may head to the top of Mt. Mitchell, my quiet place and rest, read, and bask in its mystery for that is what I need in the summer of 2010 that has been so fraught withits own mysterious changes. I would be remiss if I did not at least offer to you my thoughts on the work of the Worldwide UMC Study Committee and our trip to Mozambique.

This is an email with some slight subsequent editing that I sent to Bishop Jones within hours of my return on Wednesday and in response to his offer of condolences about my brother and illiciting my thoughts on the interviews we conducted in Maputo, Mozambique.

“Scott/Bishop Jones, Thank you for your support and prayers for my family. Indeed, all of this with my brother and daughter have been unexpected and have been difficult. I want to express to you and the staff (especially Cynthia Dopke) my sincere thanks for rearranging my flights to get me home for his service tomorrow (Thursday). I’ll be preaching the service and have been meeting with family all afternoon. I haven’t crashed yet and there’s more work to be done on his eulogy, so please understand the following thoughts as preliminary at best.

We had a very enlightening time of things in Maputo. I was able to peruse their 2008 version of their BOD (Book of Discipline)which was based on the 1988 version of the GC BOD. They simply have taken things out they feel are not relevant or offensive, and they have added as other Central Conferences have, “Special Advices,” in the middle of their BOD. These seem to carry the weight of law, but they are different from the Social Principles, which in my opinion are not church law.

I went there thinking that perhaps we could have one common book of doctrine, discipline, and order; but I feel this is unlikely given their ability and willingness to wholesale pick and choose their preferences to adapt, leave out, and add new parts. For instance they still use the deacon to elder two-step ordination process. I am sensing that our study will need to go beyond the 2012 GC if we are to really rethink our church and do the adequate study, and we must not allow money or sexuality drive our ecclesiology unless we want to polarize everyone.There must also be some sense of proportionality in our relationships with churches outside the US to avoid colonialism.

A huge difference discussed at great length was the non-itineration of bishops and that they are elected at the CC level to serve in their own home episcopal area for a specific length of time. This is a dangerous thing in terms of politics in the episcopal areas when people serve among their peers and have preconceived notions that exist from Bishop to people and in reverse, and I remember as Aesop said it, “Familarity breeds contempt.”

In final analysis I find it difficult to think we can have a common discipline unless it is VERY thin, and I don’t think that is worth our efforts or good for the UMC. Another approach might be to see where the whole church can agree and allow very little, if any, adaptability. I think we must not rush into hurried decisions that will be misunderstood and fail. I would rather study longer and get it right, or simply accept the constitutional vote results on the worldwide nature of the UMC and the “no” votes on this issue that have occurred ever since the COSMOS report of the 60’s all the way to this point as indicators that 1. We would rather live with the dysfunction as is, or 2. We really need to study this with seasoned ecclesiologists who have no agendas except to fulfill a commonly held mission of the Church and actually be a worldwide UMC. Anyway, that’s where I am at this point and need to process it all much more. I’m truly sorry not to be there with you all. The group is in my prayers and I thank everyone for their’s,

tim”

Cultural contextualization of the Gospel is not only appropriate, it is neccesary. St. Paul did a good job of this with the Athenians. However, in our UMC Connectional polity, one must discern with clarity what causes the UMC to be distinctive. What are the non-negotiables? I know Wesley said: “Let there be unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and in all things, charity.” The daunting task in our indivualistic world is to figure which is which.

We cannot devolve into congregationalism and have pastors and churches act like individual silos, nor have annual conferences, or jusrisdictions/central conferences doing their own thing. That is NOT who we are. What we are is a corporate group of Jesus’ followers who believe the saving work of Christ makes as much of a difference in this life as it does in the life to come. To quote John Wesley once again, and also use my brother Carlee’s favorite expression, “Best of all, God is with us.” The path to the future for me, the UMC, the world – is how is God with us? If we get that answered, then we will see a light into the future.

Brothers

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I’m in Africa on the east coast, less than a mile from the Indian Ocean, in Maputo, Mozambique. It’s winter here in the Southern Hempishere, and the moon at night does a smiley face upside down on the quarter, not the South Carolina crescent. The meetings have been going well. I have been the discussion leader for our delegates from the Annual Conferences of North Mozambique, South Mozambique, and the Provisional Annual Conference of South Africa. Half the gorup speaks Portugese and the other half speaks English.

At least I’m able to use my French minor from college and able to read their Book of Discipline which is dated 2008, but actually is a reprint from 1976! They still have the two step ordination process from Deacon to Elder even though we changed all that in 1996. They also have their “Speciale Councilohs” which like some other AC’s are not church law but are included in the middle of their BOD’s as if they were. It is very anachronistic, BUT the churches are vital and thriving.

So it’s been interesting to find out why they’re doing so well as we have asked questions about each person’s story as a UMC, what are their connections with other AC’s, how do they do appointments, elect Bishops, and why in the world do they want to stay in the UMC, especially if they are voting on things at the GC (always in the US) they don’t pay for and don’t try to put into practice. That’s the rub as our Worldwide UMC Study Committee does its work. We are asking the question, “What is essential in a common Book of Discipline that CANNOT be adapted across the whole connection?” If we can’t agree on that then we really don’t have a connection. We have a colonialistic money laundering enterprise. I know that’s harsh, and may not even be that accurate, but it feels that way. So pray for us as we discern what it means to be sisters and brothers in the UMC “connection” – the operative word.

Then there’s the connection we all know called family. I wrote two blogs ago about my two brothers and how my oldest brother, Carlee, was in the hospital. He was improving so much and sounded so much better that I didn’t even give you an update. Yesterday was his 70th birthday! Yesterday he died. My middle brother, Ralph, called him up and sang “Happy Brithday,” yesterday morning and a couple of hours later he just died. I have been on the phone through Skype to Julie, his precious daughter, and to my brother, Ralph.

But, I’m telling you, Carlee got the best birthday present ever. He has always loved being the star of the show and he has done it again! He got his very own birthday party yesterday with Mother, Grandmother, Daddy, Papa, and a host of others – Communion of Saints having a blast! I don’t begrudge his death. I just wish that I had been there, but I’m grateful that plane flights can be changed and I’m heading back to do his service this Thursday. It took 17 flying hours to get down here and I start in the morning for the long trip back. I”ve met new sisters and brothers in Africa, and I’m going home to tell another “Goodbye, and I love you, Carlee.” Maybe that’s the best connection whether as a denomination or a family – love.

UMC in SC and Africa – Is There One Way to be an UMC?

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We’re at Cabinet Retreat looking out over the marsh of Knowle’s Island at Palm Key in Jasper County, SC. Good food, good fellowship – moving experiences with a team-building kayaking trip up the Broad River, thankfully with the tide, and last night’s extremely moving “Blood Done Signed My Name,” a must-see if we want to be honest about latent pain and racism.

We still have a lot of work to do, but we have done a lot. We have discussed what we see as the must-do ministries of the Annual Conferene, revised Charge Conference forms, discussed some critical appointment matters, set calendars, the 2010 appointment process, discussed the most effective deployment of personnel, and financial matters that are more anxiety-laden this year than last. We’re set to continue through lunch today, and I hope we get there because I’m the Cabinet Secretary and I’m typing and talking at the same time. Not always a good mix.

Here’s my big deal about getting the work done by noon. Friday I meet with the Conference IT guy (Jim Crews), who’s absolutely great by the way, and go over the changes to Charge Conference forms, etc. so he can post them. Then I fly to Atlanta to South Africa to Maputo, Mozambique, to Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia, to Abidijan, Cote D’Ivoire, to Dakar, Senegal, to the US. Whew! I hope I spelled everything right, and that I make it there and back with my luggage and on-time.

The Worldwide UMC Study Committee is going all over our Central Conferences and Annual Conferences in Africa in small groups to listen and discern. What we are trying to hear is how we can be a connectional church and at the same time encourage local churches and annual conferences in the exercise of their ability to be nimble and flexible in ministry through a common Book of Discipline.

As most know the Constitutional Amendments that would have allowed the US to be a Regional Conference with the same ability to adapt the BOD was defeated soundly. The will of United Methodists is that we work within our current parameters. Par. 543.7, however, still allows CC’s to adapt the BOD so long as the Constitution and General Rules are not abrogated and that the spirit of connectionalism is maintained. What we’re hearing is that UM’s outside the US are often using great leeway in their adaptation. Some are using the same BOD, just translated, others are using BOD’s from 20+ years ago. We’ve got to figure out what works and not cause schism in the church.

Pray for our efforts and that there is real listening and truth-telling. I may not be blogging for a few weeks, depending on my ability to get to a computer and internet, but we’ll be connected through prayer, polity, common distinctives as a denomination defined by our praxis, “United Methodist.” I’m looking forward to listening to how we do it in all places and which parts of the BOD are global and which ones are specific and need to be. No small task! I am convinced that our denomination has the best polity in place to reach a world that needs a common voice of Jesus’ love and grace.

Connectionalism Begins at Home

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“My Three Sons” with Fred McMurray was a staple around our house growing up. With there being three boys in the family made it even more appropriate, even if we were 8years apart. Before I was 2 my oldest brother, Carlee, was off in college. We’ve all been close over the years, each reflecting our parents in different traits. Ralph is named after my Dad. Carlee was named after a great-uncle for whom my Dad worked. Me -Oh, well, since I came along very late in my parents’ lives, they let my two older brothers choose my name. I guess they thought it might give them some ownership, and give me some measure of protection.

They named me “William Timothy McClendon.” The “William” part was my Mother’s Dad’s name, William. The “Timothy” part was the name of the bear in the Dick & Jane books. So there you go. So much for the Greek meaning of “Timothy,” which means, “Honoring God.” Well, my two brothers did okay, and have been very special to me and are on my mind tonight. I just got a voicemail from my oldest brother’s former wife. She is very close to our family and we count her as a sister. Carlee has been in a Nursing Facility for several years with diabetes, heart surgery, neuropathy taking their toll. My niece, Julie, his daughter, called to say that Carlee’s blood sugar jumped up into the 500’s and that it appears he has suffered some sort of neurological event, possibly a stroke.

We’re getting to be a fragile bunch. Ralph has his diabetes to worry about, too; and he has also had heart surgery, plus neuropathy, and is currently wearing a boot too try and save his foot. Diabetes is so insidious. Mine has been under control thanks to diet, exercise, and Metformin. Our Mother and Dad both were diabetic, and Daddy lost both of his legs when he was in his early 80’s. Health is such a fragile thing. Both brothers and their families have been so good to call and ask about Narcie’s condition. Carlee called me just 3 days ago.

We were talking about his 70th birthday coming up August 15, and how I would be in Africa and wondered when I would get to see him. Well the answer is made up now. Tomorrow night we start Cabinet Retreat until Thursday and on Friday I fly to Mozambique, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and Senegal over the next 2 weeks, plus. I’m heading over with the Worldwide UMC Study Committee to check how much we connect with African UM’s in terms of how those areas have adapted the Book of Discipline. Maybe what we’ll end up with is a thinner common BOD and very few adaptations. That’s my hope as I support our connectional polity to the nth degree. So what about seeing Carlee? I’m headed there in the morning and see what’s up and go from there. If nothing, through everything in life and ministry – family comes first. Faith that doesn’t have priority at home is weak, if you ask me.

Pray for Carlee and Ralph; me, too, and please keep remembering Narcie. Family is a connection, a reflection of God’s Trinitarian self-revelation, the same reason for the UMC to be connectional, and for me to head off with the cabinet and then to Africa, or stay by Carlee’s bedside. Connecting the dots of our lives is difficult, but without any dots, life is pretty lonesome and not very fulfilling. Connectionalism begins at home, or not at all.

The Night Before

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Man, This night before your daughter has brain surgery is not easy. I am honestly caught between being freaked out wired with my palms itching and sensing non-existent fire ants crawling on my feet. My spirit is frazzled though I’ve been calling on the Lord all day for days – should have been doing that a little more, but, as they say, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” better late than never.

I really want to thank all of you for your thoughts and prayers for Narcie. Her surgery has been moved up to 11:15 am Eastern tomorrow Friday June 11. Tomorrow is Cindy’s birthday and I know what she wants: She wants Narcie whole and well. Narcie had a good cell phone call from her doctor last night that she wrote about on her blog: http://narciejeter.wordpress.com. I am going to try to blog my way through the surgery tomorrow or give you a recap when the doctor tells us the news and we get to see her.

I thought I knew what parent’s went through over these 30+ years of ministry when they lost a child. I had no idea of the aching hole in your heart, the overwhelming anxiety, the way that every nerve ending is hanging out to be stepped on by the slightest thing. I just didn’t know it could be this bad.

It was good to be at annual conference with Narcie last night and the part of today that we were there. When a person is ordained as she and I have been, and even her brother, Josh, as a provisional member, your membership is transferred from your home church to the annual conference. Of course as P.K.’s (preacher’s kids) they have had many “home churches” and I have mine at Edgefield UMC in Edgefield, SC, and they have all been and are appreciated. But still the annual conference is our intersecting link, our lodestone for our heritage and hope. It literally becomes your home church. It certainly felt that way today. Every hug was a prayer. United Methodist Connectionalism is going to help save us as a denomination and Wesleyan Movement because it is a vehicle for the most powerful witness of grace that my family has ever experienced. I cannot imagine going through life without the Connection which is not at its best a top-down or bottom-up connection, but is a horizontal one where we let God’s Spirit flow through us as equal recipients of Jesus’ love.

Pray for us tonight that the nerves settle down and that Narcie gets restful restoring sleep; that Mike rests well and is a continuing strength to her; that Enoch & Evy don’t get scared because they sense something is wrong with Mommy; and that Cindy gets her birthday wish tomorrow: Narcie, alive and well.Thanks again,
tim