Cindy Gregorson on faith and life

Posts tagged ‘united methodist church’

On to Portland

I am heading to the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I am not a delegate so I have not taken the time to wade through the more than 12oo pages of legislation being proposed.  I am going to learn how we can best host General Conference when it comes to Minneapolis in 2020.  And what I want to know the most, is how do you create an environment where people can be at their best?  

I remember Mayor RT Ryback addressing the General Commission as they were considering Minneapolis as a future location.  He said Minneapolis is the kind of city where people can come and have important conversations.  I loved that he understood what we needed to be about as a church.

There are some significant conversations that need to take place in the United Methodist Church, and most have to do with what kind of church do we want to be and how will we love, learn and live together?  To be honest, I have been dreading General Conference 2016 because I have found the legislative process to not always be helpful in trying to find a way forward and there is a building pressure cooker around declining membership, full inclusion, and the challenges of being a global church.  Some days I despair that we will make any progress at all!   And yet, nothing matters more to me than we learn how to live together in this global, diverse world of ours.  We have never been more interdependent on each other for our well being.  And what I have come to realize is that the ten days of General Conference is a microcosm of the world we live in.

So my hope and prayer as I wing my way to Portland: that we can truly be a community of love and forgiveness, and by doing so, will be a witness to the world on how diverse people who do not think alike are committed to loving alike, and treating one another with mutual respect.  And as that peace ballad says: let it begin with me.  As I go to learn the tasks of hospitality, I will seek to be a person of peace, grace and hope in the midst of what I suspect may be some very anxious times, trusting that how I and others show up and are present to one another matters deeply in creating the kind of environment where we can be at our best and allow God to be God and lead this church into the future that God would have for us.

Who Has Shaped Your Journey

So, have you ever felt a call, deep in your soul, to do something with your life that makes a difference in the world? Have you ever had that moment where you knew you were doing exactly what you were put on earth here to do? So, how did you discover that call, that place where as Frederick Buechner has said, your deep gladness meets the worlds deep needs? Was it trial and error? Probably some of that. But if you look back, do you see people who were encouragers, equippers who called forth gifts in you that you did not even know you had?

As I think about my calling as an ordained clergy, I could talk about the religion class I took my senior year of college that shifted my path away from the world of business. I could tell you about my grandmother who loved me in a way that gave me a taste of God’s unconditional love. I could reflect on my parents who gave me a faith by making church a part of our lives. I could speak of pastors who were wonderful role models of what it means to be a person of faith and to be real and human so that I did not think they were so set apart, I could never be that!

But when I think who most influenced my calling, I would have to say it was the whole church, the saints of Cleveland Ave. United Methodist Church. I came to this church as a pre-teen. It was a small church, and for a young person who was experiencing those awkward teenage years, they were definitely a community of love and forgiveness. And even more, they saw gifts in me and allowed me to lead. I taught Sunday school. I served in leadership roles. I was engaged in youth ministry and through that learned how to work as a part of a team. Interestingly enough, I don’t remember any one person saying to me, “Have you ever considered ordained ministry?” but in everything they did, they were saying you are a leader, and the church needs your leadership.

It took me awhile to put two and two together and realize that the combination of my gifts and my love of the church was indeed a calling by God to lead God’s people, the church, into its mission. But I finally got it, and when I shared this calling with the beloved people in my life, and those saints in the church, they simply said, “of course.” They had seen it all along.

Cleveland Ave. United Methodist Church closed it doors several years ago. The numbers had dwindled to the point where it did not make financial sense to keep trying to be church in the way they were, so they made the faithful and difficult decision to merge with Fairmount Ave. United Methodist Church. Today, many of those saints continue to be encouragers, equippers, and influencers. And I want to offer my own shout out this day, giving thanks for their influence in my life, and for them to know their ministry is living on in future generations because of people like me that they sent out into the world.

Listen to your life, my friends. Listen to the people in your life. There you may find your calling. And if God might indeed be calling you to lead God’s church, then go to explorecalling.orgto learn more about the United Methodist Church and the ways you can bring your gifts to the world through the church to make a difference.

Board Governance and Trust

So how do you build trust?  In the conversation the United Methodist Church is having about structure, there is a proposed movement towards a model of an oversight board utilizing some of the principles of policy governance.  People are suspicious of such a small board, 45 people, with an executive staff person, who would oversee the other agency directors.  In the corporate world, there would be no question about such a structure.  Most large, global corporations have such a structure with one CEO.  The ultimate accountability for the board is of course with the stockholders who are usually pretty clear on the outcome they are seeking:profits.
The United Methodist Church is currently structured for representational decision making.  We have believed that we will have a better quality to our conversation and decision making if we can have representation from the different constituencies.  Therefore we have tried to build our boards with paying attention to age, gender, ethnicity and geographical representation in proportion to the demographics of the church.  So why is that a challenge now?  We need to have large numbers of people to get that diverse representation, and we have paid such attention to representation, we have not always paid as much attention to giftedness.  And when you consider proportionality in the equation of representation, some voices from the edges will always be underrepresented.
But I think what is at the heart of the matter is trust.  We have not developed clear agreement on what we want to be doing together.  We have not been able to say with one voice this is what matters most.  Without clearly articulated and mutually shared outcomes, we try to manage our individual hopes and desires by seeking to have control over the who and the how.  We do not trust whoever we have named as the other to take us where we want to go as a church.   We are concerned they will not uphold our values, make decisions that will be in our best interests, and ultimately this will be a church we will not recognize and we are unsure it will be a church we will want to be a part of.  And therefore we try to get more people at the table who might look and think like us, block others who are trying to do the same with their coalition groups, and we try to build such safe guards into our system in order to keep power in check, that in the end we limit our ability to make significant and substantive changes.  A fast changing world requires quick adaptation or we are going to find ourselves obsolete.  And policy governance only works when you have well articulated ends: what difference are are here to make and for whom, and clear and agreed upon governance policies including executive limitations.
So what would it look like if we spent less time talking about how we organize ourselves and more time talking about what we want to accomplish together and what kinds of values we will hold.  I know this was the attempt in the holy conversations but those seemed to be add ons to the general conference process, not foundational work.  So for example, we keep talking about how we are a global church but we don’t have enough substantive conversation about what shape we would like that take.  We have lots of disagreement about what we mean by full participation, relationship, financial support and responsibility, contextual freedom etc.  Until we have that conversation and work hard to get to clarity about what we mean by being a global church we will continue to have this sense of mistrust, and believe that any group acting that does have not “me or someone like me” at the table, cannot possibly be acting in my best interest.
That kind of work to get clarity about who we are and what we are ca

lled to do and be as a church also takes time.  In team building it is called the principle of going slow in order to go fast.  If you spend the time to build the shared identity and purpose, as well as relationships of trust, then you are able to make huge decisions in a relatively short period of time because we know this team is clear about who they are here to serve: the mission.  But do we even have agreement about what the mission?  We can quote the words: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but do we have a shared understanding of what it means, and how it shapes our life?  Therein lies  the heart of the issue for us a church.

Is It Time For Robert to Leave the House

General Conference Day Six

I need to do a little research on my United Methodist history.  Last night one of the presenters stated that the earliest delegated general conference was held in 1808.  That was the first time people were elected and seated as representatives from their annual conference.  But I am not sure when Robert’s Rules of Order and passing legislation as a way to structure the Book of Discipline became the order of the day.

I have been sitting in plenary session today.  We are amending and referring, and substituting, and spending hours working on a petition to ultimately defeat it.  I keep thinking of the deep issues facing us as a church, and just wonder if this method of being the general conference is becoming outdated and if there is a better way?  I am presuming we have not always done it this way, even though it seems like it.  But I find it to be slow, tedious and it becomes a procedural game.  We are spending lots of time…but what are we actually accomplishing?

Congress has the same fault.  There is a fundamental conversation about the role of government in our country, and we are attempting to have it through legislative policies and practices and it is not working.  We are frustrated that in our nation no one seems to be leading and we cannot make headway on key challenges, and winning is more important that working for the common good.

Similarly, I see the church needing to have a fundamental convernsation about what does it mean for the United Methodist Church to be a global church, and how will we live that out together?  How will be a church that is inclusive and welcoming to all, how will we be relevant in a rapidly changing world, and how will we face the financial challenges facing us.  We are trying to solve these issues in plenary sessions of 1000 people debating and voting.

I just have to wonder about what God might be thinking about all of this and when did Robert get to be the order of the day instead of prayer and discernment?

A Global Church

General Conference Day Three

It takes time and effort to be a global church.  I am sitting in legislative committee today.  We have people who speak a variety of languages and come from a variety of backgrounds.  Just moving through the organizational process took significant time because we needed to make sure our translators had time to interpret so everyone could participate fully.  We spent a generous amount of time to introduce the members of the committee to each other so we would have a sense of who is sitting in the circle, where each comes from and some of their story.  It was important foundational work for building relationships in order to work together.

I am person who likes to think fast, talk fast and move fast.  There were moments I was frustrated by how long everything was taking.  But I have been on the other side of the coin as well where I have been the non-primary language speaker, and the needing the hospitality of the group in order to be able to contribute my voice fully.

I believe this is one of the key challenges we face as a United Methodist Church.  The world is moving fast, and we, as a church, are having a hard time keeping up with changes sweeping across the landscape.  I long for a church that is more nimble, agile, and flexible which requires thinking on your feet and taking action without having study committee after study committee. And yet, if we truly are going to be a global church with full participation and not just in name only, then we need to take the time to listen, to build community and to bring our varied perspectives and history.

I don’t know how to reconcile these two.  Many days I feel like we don’t have the luxury of time.  If we do not make significant radical change, I am not sure we will still be here.  The aging and shrinking of our congregations is going to create a financial crisis that is heading toward us like a speeding bullet.  And the implications of that is not just for the US church, but will have ramifications world wide.  But without time, to thoughtfully and prayerfully discern God’s leading and the building of the community, what kind of church will be be and how will we decide well what changes to make?