“Bishop, do you still have hope for the United Methodist Church?” The question caught me by surprise, but I was ready to answer. Over the years, I have learned to slow down my mouth so that my brain can catch up. I try to respond rather than to simply react. Sometimes my mouth wins the race (I’m sure I am not the only one with this struggle). What I wanted to say was, “I did not know that we had a choice.”
Hope, per the Apostle Paul, is one of the three things that will always remain. Hope is not optional equipment for Christian believers. As United Methodists, we are reminded when we are received into membership that, “the church is of God and will be preserved until the end of time…” Do I still have hope for the United Methodist Church? Yes, yes, I do!
Our denominational struggles around issues of human sexuality pose a great challenge, but will not be the determining factor of the church’s future. The future of “The Church” is secure as long as Jesus Christ is seated on the throne as Lord. I heard an old preacher say that “Jesus Christ cannot be impeached, and he sure won’t resign.”
The future of the United Methodist Church is also up to each of us. I am concerned about the direction we will choose as we try and discern a way forward, but I am committed that no matter what comes from the Commission or the special Called Session, I will:
v Remain faithful to my commitment to Christ and to my calling
v Remember that I am a part of a baptismal covenant community
v Reach out with the love of Jesus as I engage in mission and ministry
v Require, as well as offer, grace with sisters and brothers that disagree with me
v Relax and trust Jesus to build and shape “His Church”
v Refrain from breaking my vow as a Bishop to “preserve the unity of the church”
v Reduce fear and anxiety in the IGRC by being a non-anxious presence.
I refuse to believe that schism, division, or a non-contested divorce is the best course of action for the United Methodist Church. One of the reasons I became United Methodist is because we are a people of grace and compassion. We have a history of reaching up to God and out to the world in mission and ministry sharing the love of Jesus Christ. Our current dilemma, while difficult, is no reason to throw in the towel or to abandon hope. Most folks within our denomination do not want the church to split and are praying that we will stay together.
I refuse to withhold my money or my participation as a way of trying to leverage or push our denomination towards my way of thinking. I recognize that this tactic forces others to do more than their fair share and can hurt and cripple life changing ministries.
My words of encouragement to the IGRC are to focus on Jesus, work to strengthen your local
congregation, discover ways to engage in ministries that serve your community, and to be conduits through which Jesus can pump mercy and dispense grace. When we focus on our mission and ministry we give evidence that our optimism is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ, the hope of the world.
Do I still have hope for the United Methodist Church? You Betcha!
Bishop Frank J. Beard