Something is about to happen
By Sylvester Weatherall
Co-Dean, IGRC Cabinet
My brothers and sisters:
It seems since the first day Bishop Beard walked in and saw his new cabinet, he has been steadily saying, "I want a unified cabinet. A cabinet that rows together in one direction together."
Now he didn't know that Bishop Keaton called Mary Kathryn (Pearce) my sister because we argue like sisters and brothers, but he soon got an ocular view of how that can happen. I bet you all think we all think alike in the Cabinet Room, right? Wrong. But when a decision is made, we all live by the covenant that we will all do what the majority says.
My brothers and sisters, God has given us the cabinet, an ocular view of how ... what makes a cabinet unified personally. How many of you know some of the times when we are going through adversity, adversity is what makes the body come together? In the last year, we've seen Bishop Beard lose two sisters, and we watched him go through that with grace and humility and never stopped doing this work. Shortly after that, our brother Scott (Grulke) went into the hospital and stayed weeks and months and we didn't even know what was wrong with him. He didn't know what was wrong with him.
Shortly after that, Carol Russell was in a car accident, and they called the code on her several times. They said to us that they called in the family in on many occasions, Roger held onto faith like I've never seen in a human being. Then our sister Rose (Booker-Jones) went into the hospital for a simple routine surgery and three times they called Bishop Beard and said, “Rose has had a stroke, and Rose wouldn't do this and Rose wouldn't do that.” Bishop, I can remember the last time she was in the hospital, she did swing those legs over the bed, and we tried to get her to stay in the bed and she wouldn't.
Roger came back because he remembered Rose covered for him when Carol was in the hospital. Roger came back to the cabinet and covered for Rose as he's still doing to this day so Rose could go in early or leave. As soon as we got things back, we had our cabinet together and Jim Barnett on a Friday said, "I'll see you all Monday. I'm just going in for a routine thing and it isn’t nothing to worry about. My wife thinks I'm going to die, but I'm going to be okay." We got word that they're transporting Jim to Chicago, in a heroic life-saving effort.
My brothers and sisters, I don't know whether it was fear or gratitude to God for God's awesome love and God's awesome grace, but our cabinet had to come together through prayer. The only reason I believe we've made it over the last year is we had to pray for one another, console one another, and love one another the way we have never loved anybody that hard.
General Conference 2019
Bishop Beard and his post-General Conference 2019 summits said something that inspired the whole cabinet during this atmosphere of rumors and talk about United Methodist's divorce.
Sidebar: If there's going to be a divorce somebody has to do something with the kids we have given birth to.
He said, "I don't believe that two and a half years of praying for a way forward, a whole day of prayer at General Conference 2019 and prayer throughout General Conference 2019 were not heard by God. That resonated with me because my wife Aletha and a team of people coordinated that whole General Conference prayer theme. Aletha had conference calls for months with
Tom Albin of the Upper Room and people all over the United States and the world preparing for a conference of prayer.
They bathed the entire conference in prayer, and one day the UPS man came to my door and delivered five big boxes, and I looked at him. He looked at me, "I'm not bringing them in." Five large boxes from a person in California who couldn't be at the General Conference but wanted every delegate to have a cross. She sent five boxes of crosses. Then the ladies decided Mrs. Beard and Brenda Grimmett and Meredith Brown and Aletha (Weatherall) to cut up some burlap and put burlap in a bag with all those crosses, I'm still finding pieces of burlap in the corner ... I had a ringside seat, as I watched those ladies laugh, pray and work hard to stuff over 2,000 little bags of crosses and prayer beads and burlap.
Something is about to happen
I believe my brothers and sisters, something major is about to happen in The United Methodist Church. It's obviously clear that business as usual is no longer accepted. I say that because as the latest work, I began to look at the history of Methodism in America. From the very beginning, Methodism and the American culture has always struggled to try to be at one with each other.
Most of us in this room only know of Methodism that's United Methodist. The truth is, my friends, for 235 years we have a checkered history on being united, let alone uniform. I believe in many ways that we have never been united, but God still utilizes Methodism to change the world.
Let me review for you a brief history. In 1735 John Wesley wanted to introduce people in the New World to Jesus Christ and, in particular, he wanted to introduce Native Americans, to Jesus Christ. How many of you know, they told Wesley, "You can't do that! Those people are savages. You can't give them Jesus. They will scalp or kill you." But Wesley still introduced them to Jesus Christ and God used that moment to bring Native Americans into what we now call the Methodist church. From the very beginning, Native American people have been Christian. They didn't just come lately. They've been here all the time.
God provided for the African American church by utilizing Wesley's heart to introduce God to black people. In 1758 Wesley baptized, "Negro slaves and at least one woman," thus setting the table to receiving people of color into his societies. Wesley died in 1791, and when he died, he wrote to his friend William Wilberforce, "Do something about that abomination of slavery. Don't let nothing stop you from achieving the goal." Even in 1784, when we had our glorious Christmas Conference, we struggled on how we wanted to be together, and Black Harry Hoosier showed up.
He was one of the first people to ride away from that conference to proclaim the Good News of Methodist in the land.
Black Harry Hoosier, illiterate, born a slave, set free by the Holy Spirit and Francis Asbury. When Asbury found out that he couldn't read, Asbury began to read the Bible out loud. He soon discovered that Harry could quote the Bible verbatim even though he couldn't read. He began to use Harry to open for him at his summer revivals and pretty soon Harry became one of the most foremost preachers in Methodism, and all of that lasted until ... until 1844 when the church split for two reasons into The Methodist Episcopal Church North and the Methodist Episcopal Church South.
In 1858 desiring to spread the news into Africa, the Methodist Church sent their first missionary bishop to Liberia and he stayed there for 24 years preaching the good news to the folks in Liberia. In 1866, a group of black Methodists within the Methodist Episcopal Church South petitioned the General Conference to let them leave if we weren't going to be included in the church.
For nearly 100 years, my brothers and sisters, the Methodist Church operated on segregated bases. Then in 1939, they came up with a brilliant idea, groundbreaking idea, we are going to be united, doggone it, because we got a way forward.
In an effort to be unified, the 1939 merger created the Methodist Church from the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church and we came back together again. The southern churches would only agree to come back to this new merger if they didn't have to accept Yankee bishops, number one. Sorry, Bishop Hugh.
Something had to be done about where black people would worship. In 1939, they created the first apartheid in America called the Central Jurisdiction and all of the African Americans that had been with Wesley from the beginning were placed in one jurisdiction that went from sea to shining sea.
It didn't matter where you were. When you had annual conference, you may have had to leave Springfield and your annual conference was in Denver. But, the folks came together and they elected leaders and they elected people who would lead them forward in Jesus name. In 1944, the General Conference appointed a commission to study racial relationships. You would've thought that all of the African Americans would've been ready to come out of the Central Jurisdiction, but they weren't because they were afraid that if we come out of the Central Jurisdiction, we will not have leadership. We will not have a place at the table and everything we worked hard to achieve would go down the tubes.
Despite the inequities in that segregation, God still utilized the Methodist Church to bring in African Americans and have them reproduce themselves until we finally produced a Bishop Woodie White, who became the first African American bishop to serve in the Illinois Area in 1984.
We continued to struggle to be a unified American church, while struggling hard now to be a global church. We never got it right being a national church and now we're trying to be a global church. In the years between 1996 and 2000 General Conferences, the United States Jurisdiction and the non-U.S. Central Conferences didn't see a whole lot of change in this delegate percentage across the connection.
Every region changed by a percentage point or less in those four years, but the 2000 General Conference voted in a new way of assigning delegates. No longer would it be considered for both clergy and laity membership totals, but now the assignment would be solely based upon the membership of local churches. It basically turned our General Conference into a House of Representative form of government. Pew membership now determined the assignment of how many delegates jurisdictions were given. Since that change, a larger percentage of shifts started to be seen. After the redistribution from 2004 to 2012, the northern jurisdictions were reduced by 82 votes to General Conference and the southern jurisdiction were reduced by 100 votes.
The west was reduced by 12 votes and in the same span African Central Conferences went from 186 delegates in 2004 to 372 in 2012. The 2016 and future 2020 General Conferences dramatically reduced the total number of delegates previously that were held in most of our Annual Conference. To maintain a real, apples to apples comparison, you need to switch from numbers to percentages. From 2004 to 2020, the northern jurisdictions were reduced by 11 percent. Their representation in the southern jurisdictions were reduced by 12 percent of their representation. Overall, from 2004 to 2020, the United States representatives were reduced by 24.4 percent while the African and Central Conferences gained 21.6 percent.
The percentage now is that the U.S. jurisdictions represent 55.9 percent of the total votes at General Conference and the rest of Africa represents 32.3 percent and the rest of the Central Conferences make up the other 11.8 percent. I believe, my brothers and sisters, not only is the struggle to become a national church and now a global church, God is not going to use it to do marvelous things because we do struggle.
Anything that you do that comes to you easy without struggle, be wary of it. Because sometimes, you have to have a struggle so big that only God can step in and intervene to solve the problem. The good news is this: when God is on your side, that's more than the whole world against you.
We may never ever see the Promised Land of a unified, uniform church, not in the Protestant Church, not in the Catholic Church, not in the Jewish church. But the good news is there is a place
that we preach about every single Sunday. There is a place where God has promised where the servant will never end, where the wicked will cease from troubling. There is a place where the weary will find rest. There is a place where faith will become sight, where mansions are awaiting all of us, where you've got to robe, I've got a robe, and all of God's children will be under a big tent called Children of God.
There is a place where God is on the throne and our brother Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God reminding God that no matter how hard it looks for us down here, that God is in the mix of our trouble. There is a place where angels worship and call God holy, holy, holy, where there is no more death and no more struggles. There is a place where when the saints gather, they gather around the throne in all white garments praising a God that brought them out of the earthly struggle. There is a place where the blood of the lamb who died on Calvary for us will be covering all of our sins. There is a place where when we reach that, we'll be able to say howdy -- howdy to a god that has never abandoned the Methodist Church.
One of these days I'm going to do like the old Psalm that said some glad morning I'm going to fly away. I thank God that when I fly away, I won't be lost. I hope you know exactly where I'm going because God has paved a way though even though the way is narrow. I know how to get there because Jesus will guide me there. Until then, my friends, the only unity that I might see is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Until I see a unified triune God, I don't know about you but I'm going to keep on introducing people to Jesus Christ, who really is the author and finisher of our heavenly reward. I don't know about you. Until I see him face to face, I'm going to keep on in the power of the Holy Spirit preaching transformation and new life is possible in Jesus Christ.
I'm going to keep on preaching that with Jesus on your side, you cannot lose. I'm going to keep on laying hands on people and calling those things that are not as though they were. I'm going to keep on promoting new life in my brother Jesus until every human being on this planet is saved, sanctified, and full of the Holy Spirit.
Then, my friends, and I hope you join me in this, after all that preaching and all that praying, I'm going to let Jesus sort out who will and who will not get in the kingdom. Because I truly believe Jesus, who has begun a great work in American Methodism, is faithful, and will be faithful to us until we can see it in fruition.
I'd like to declare that I know the one foundation of the church, that the bedrock of the church is built on Jesus Christ and Christ's righteousness. We know that the church doesn't belong to the IGRC Cabinet. It doesn't even belong to the Council of Bishops. We're merely in sales, but God is the manager. God is the one who decides who is and what for.