June 2016 – Where are we?

There are probably almost as many answers to the question – “where are we?” as there are people on earth. Narrowing our field of inquiry by asking only Christians yields a bit more common ground, but still we have a vast array of answers.  Asking only United Methodists, reduces the number of answers, it seems, only a little…

Of course where we are always depends on what kind of ‘where’ we are talking about – what physical, mental, emotional and spiritual coordinates we’re assessing our whereabouts with. Even starting very locally, here in our Bourne-Cataumet Parish – we’re always in many places at the same time. We’re in the midst of a Sunday sermon series, walking through the book of Acts – the church’s original spiritual travelogue. We’re assembling health kits to be brought to our Methodist Annual Conference (June 16-18) in Manchester, NH; these kits may be put to use virtually anywhere in the world in response to natural and human-made disasters. We’re nearing the end of our Sunday School Year (June 12th is Children’s Sunday – be there or be square). We’re continuing our Parish Friday morning Walking Group (we meet at 9 am every Friday at the Bourne Bridge parking area, starting with prayers and continuing with exercise and conversation together– come join us). We’re the body of Christ together, with many members in many ministries, all the time.

I’m also reminded of how many different answers there are to ‘where are we?’ types of questions in our study of Acts – where followers are altogether in one place, yet communicating in many languages (Acts chapter 2) and coming up with ways of bridging cultural differences (see especially Acts 6:1-7 and chapters 10, 11, and 15) – and as I’ve followed the course of our recently concluded General Conference of the United Methodist Church (our global once-every-four-years meeting) through news articles, live-streaming, and brief reports from friends and family who were in attendance… I think the Methodist Council of Bishops’ letter that appears in this edition of Circuit Rider summarizes the state of the global Methodist church pretty well. I agree with the Bishops when they say there is still a lot of unity in this very diverse global church, alongside all the disunity that gets more headlines.

But the most convincing case I’ve seen for seeking greater unity while learning to better understand our differences is in a video clip from General Conference I’ve just watched, with Ann Jacob, a young adult from Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, speaking about a global gathering of younger Methodists that brought together more than 300 young Methodists from 34 countries. Much as we’ve witnessed in General Conferences over the past four decades, these young people also engaged in long, arduous, and tear-stained debate over human sexuality. A final debate, she said, went on for ten hours straight, ending at 3 in the morning. Deep differences were not resolved. But, she said, when they re-convened there was deep agreement on the need to stay together and continue to learn together how to better serve Jesus. Here is the entire text of the Young Persons’ Convocation’s statement, read by Ms. Jacob:

“There has been increasing talk of schism of the United Methodist Church in recent months. Many say that the issue of homosexuality is so contentious that it will inevitably split our Church. We, as the young people of The United Methodist Church, would like to say that we do not desire a divided Church.

“The Church that we have taken our places in is called to a ministry that includes so much more than this one issue. There are genuine, passionate perspectives on all sides of the issue and though we disagree, we have committed ourselves to loving, faithful discussion on this subject. Part of the beauty of our Church is that there has always been room at the table for a wide range of theological diversity within our connectional church family. As Wesley said, ‘May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?’

“We urge everyone to seek solutions that promote our global unity as the United Methodist Church of Jesus Christ, rather than focus only on the issues that divide us, so that we may faithfully live out our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

As Ann Jacob read this statement and spoke about the circumstances leading up to it, she was surrounded by many other young people, laying hands on her shoulders as she read, in a spirit of deep prayer…

I wept. I prayed…

And my prayer is that we will all continue in deep prayer  – that the grace and peace of Jesus will continue to teach us how to faithfully interpret and learn from our very real diversity of perspectives and viewpoints… And most of all, lead us into ever-deepening unity of purpose in serving Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  To Him be all glory,

Pastor Tim