At the opening worship service of General Conference 2012, Bishop Larry Goodpaster preached on the scripture about the disciples mending their nets by the seashore. We would be busy this week, he said, mending our nets, being about our business. He cautioned us not to be too busy so that we do not recognize Christ in our midst. We were busy mending our nets at first, doing the business of General Conference. Then it seemed like we were arguing over how to mend the nets and then we were pushing and pulling and fighting over the nets themselves. We began ripping and tearing the fabric of our denomination. The tool that Christ has given us to fish for people.
When the Judicial Council decision was read on Friday May 4, 2012 the UMC Plan was declared “unsalvageable”. The delegates read the books, Lovett Weems’s Focus, Gil Rendle’s Journey in the Wilderness, Bob Farr’s Renovate or Die. We felt the excitement that this GC was the one where we were going to make changes, do something new, change direction. Why work so hard if GC doesn’t have the ability to redefine the future of the church?
After years of work on the CTA, months of work on Plan B and MFSA, hours and days spent crafting them into a collaborative plan that was the best of all three. It was unsalvageable. Perhaps what is more concerning is not the loss of Plan UMC, but the loss of something else. Perhaps our confidence in our polity is unsalvageable. Perhaps the hope of our young people is unsalvageable. Perhaps our faith in the goodness of others to work for the whole and not just defend their part is unsalvageable.
Like many clergy, I returned to my church this Sunday morning. Beautiful, elderly women came out of the sanctuary to hug me and tell me they were proud that I was a delegate to the General Conference. “I am sure all your hard work made Methodism better.” I smiled and thanked them, but secretly wondered. I hoped they did not read the UMNS articles and I am certain they don’t get news from twitter.
As discouraged as I am after my first Genera l Conference, I look with fresh eyes at my mission field and pick up the only net I have. Torn as it may be in the denomination of my ordination, I lovingly grasp it and GO into the mission field as Christ has called me to do. I visit the hospital, talk with my confirmands, and prepare my sermon. I am excited about our church’s missional microcommunities, our new church start, our ministry with the poor, our plans to reach refugee and immigrant populations, our children’s choir and our community garden. God is right here showing me the path to take today. God is at work in the grass roots of our denomination. More than ever, in the local church. There is hope for Methodism and a new call to mend our nets in Portland in 2016.
Rev. Jan Davis
First Rowlett UMC, Rowlett Texas