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Bishops called to reclaim church’s mission


6:00 P.M. EST October 31, 2011 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)

Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster preaches at the opening of the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C. UMNS photos by Ronny Perry.
Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster preaches at the opening of the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C. UMNS photos by Ronny Perry.
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The Council of Bishops president acknowledged Oct. 31 that he does not yet know all the answers to – or even the questions raised by – The United Methodist Church’s proposed restructuring.

But in his morning sermon, Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster told his fellow bishops, “We cannot maintain the status quo.”

Goodpaster spoke at the opening of a gathering that marks the first time the Council of Bishops, as a body, will have considered church-restructuring proposals headed for next year’s General Conference.

Altogether, 109 of the denomination’s 228 active and retired bishops are at the meeting, which is set to conclude Nov. 4.

Among other proposed changes, the legislation would consolidate nine of the denomination’s 13 general agencies into a new United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry. The center would have a 15-member board of directors accountable to a 45-member advisory board called the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. The council would replace the Connectional Table, which coordinates the denomination’s mission, ministries and resources.

General Conference, which meets every four years, is the top lawmaking assembly of the church. About 1,000 delegates from around the world will converge in Tampa, Fla., for the gathering next spring.

The recommended restructuring is part of the multiyear Call to Action process, which aims to reverse decades of declining membership and financial giving in the United States and to increase congregational vitality. 

Goodpaster reminded the bishops of the challenge they embraced last year at the council’s meeting in Panama “to redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations.”

“It is a challenge because we, who serve as bishops of the church, active and retired, know that not every local United Methodist church is a place of vitality,” Goodpaster said. "We know that to increase the number of vital congregations fully living out the mission that has been given to the church will take an intensive and long-range commitment on the part of the whole church.”

Essential questions

The suggested structural changes originated with the Interim Operations Team, a group of eight laity and clergy working with denominational leadership to implement the Call to Action recommendations. Goodpaster, who also leads the denomination’s Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference, is part of the Interim Operations Team.

Bishop Charles W. Jordan (left) and Bishop Elias G. Galvan (right) have a discussion at the Council of Bishops meeting.
Bishop Charles W. Jordan (left) and Bishop Elias G. Galvan (right) have a discussion at the Council of Bishops meeting.
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After the morning worship, the bishops heard an overview of the Interim Operations Team’s recommendations and posted their questions, hopes and fears about each proposal on large sheets of paper hanging around the room.

The questions included, “How does aligning the general agencies take into account issues of inclusiveness, diversity and trust?” “To whom will we (the bishops) be accountable?” “How will the central conferences (outside the United States) benefit from this?”

In his sermon, Goodpaster noted that the Call to Action process has generated lively debate and discussion at every level of the denomination. “The recommendations from the Interim Operations Team and many of the subsequent conversations and debates have centered on the institutional organization: How many boards? How many directors? What about inclusiveness and diversity? What are legal and financial implications?”

He noted that these are all “how” and “what” questions, but he desires more conversation about why the denomination and this process exist. “Our missional character of spreading Scriptural holiness, … making disciples of Jesus Christ and transforming the world – that’s our ‘why.’”

New horizons

After the morning worship, Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa said he thinks the denomination faces a challenge to return to its roots as a movement. He pointed out that this Council of Bishops meeting is occurring near where Bishop Francis Asbury planted some of the earliest Methodist congregations in the United States. At the time, Methodism was rapidly spreading across the American continent just as it is in Africa today.

“My prayer is that we should not be hesitant to look to new horizons,” Nhiwatiwa said.

Mississippi Area Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said, “It will be abundantly helpful” for the bishops to talk together.

“It will be important to undergird all we’re doing with continued thinking together about our history and our theology as we move into the future.”

More than structure

Through much of his sermon, Goodpaster tackled the criticism that the Call to Action process has been short on “ecclesiology” – a fancy word for what it means to be the church. 

In discussions of the Call to Action and in his own reading, Goodpaster said, “The church is a community of faith active in love, alive as the body of Christ.

“To be the body of Christ means that the church is not so much about structure as it is about the Spirit of God,” he said. “It is not so much about committees as it is about Christ. It means that the church is defined not by a top-down hierarchical organization but by the grace and love of God equipping people.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Showing 9 comments

  • fjlm 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I believe the restructuring of our denomination is a testing and revelation time that God is directing our denomination to go through to prepare us for the coming of Christ.  It is understandable, the restructuring  may cause some fear of losing positions, status, money, identity, traditions, etc., among the Bishops, District Superintendents, pastors, and local congregations.  A renewing of attitudes of the heart and spirit must begin in all levels of our denomination to stop being so concerned about being “a good Methodist”, but to be “a good Christian” that happens to be a Methodist.  As Bishop Goodpastor said, ““The church is a community of faith active in love, alive as the body of Christ.” Therefore, our focus should be on how we as individual Christians and a Christian denomination answer the question:  Am I/we active in love?   The answer should reflect if Christ is alive in an individual’s life, our denomination and the world.  I welcome the change and revival.
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  • StrugglingtostayUM 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    We still have trees and carols at Christmas.  The one thing I agree with is that the UMC is getting away from being a CHURCH AND STANDING FOR FOUNDATION BELIEFS:  God is God, Jesus is God's Son, the Holy Spirit is God with us.  The biggest trouble is that we are so afraid we will offend someone that we no longer take a Biblical stand.
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  • SoldierForChrist 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    The General Board of Church and Society has given America (and the world) the impression that the UMC is a denomination willing, and in fact eager to please the secular world, to compromise our beliefs and turn our back on the Lord Jesus Christ if need be, so that we will be seen as open to all things, no matter how contrary they are to scripture. We're bleeding members because we've engaged in divisive politics. People who've left the UMC have told me the world has changed our church. I'm staying. I'm fighting to make our church one that will change the world. The question has never been, "Is God on our side?" It's always been, "Are WE on God's side?" Well, are we?
    show more show less

    (Edited by a moderator)

  • long_time_Methodist 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Part of the problem includes such new practices as no tree or carols during Advent.  It may be liturgically correct but it fails to satisfy the cultural and social needs that used to attract non-church folks at least once a year.  Now they don't even show up.  And substituting "new, more modern" words for the Lord's prayer drove more than a few out of our congregation.  While instituting ideas to attract "new" or "younger" people, the core is staying home.  And their checks are for fewer dollars.  Talking up "communication" on Sunday morning and then failing to do so during the week catches up with our pastors.  Hand picking a "leadership" team that will buy into everything presented to them has left many long time members feeling excluded.  None of this works.  The goals may be right, the hopes sincere, but somehow it isn't working.  Most members of our congregation who have left have simply moved (without moving their "membership") to other mainstream churches who still observe the kind of worship we have been used to - they're not going to the mega-churches or the "praise" churches - they seek a familiar service.
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    (Edited by a moderator)

  • Nanette Traband 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    The key to John Wesley's Methodism was the small group, not mega churches. We lost our impetus along the way by getting away from the structure Wesley gave his denomination.
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  • untied_methodist 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Suspicion of denominational authorities.

    Concern about "the false relegion [sic.] of evolution."

    Shying away from "social religion."

    Clergy and laity abandoning the means of grace, including "constant communion," fasting, and "Christian conference."

    Laity literally enraged over the inclusion of Our Social Creed in a service of worship.

    Well...I could go on all day.

    The UMC is finished; we've squandered a glorious inheritance and poisoned a vital organ of the Body of Christ.

    We will reap what we have sown (or failed to sow).

    Grace to you, and peace, and a prayer that I am proven wrong.
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  • theospilot 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Why do comments have to be approved?  Why do you seek to censor comments
    about the most important and biggest changes we as a shrinking
    denomination are trying to make to get back on the path we apparently
    left 45 years ago?  It will be interesting to see if you "approve" or
    censor this comment.   Obviously if someone is being rude or mean that is something else, but let's have a very direct conversation, very direct.
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  • crodenberg 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    At our local level we are losing members to the Baptist church due to the lobbying activities in Washington. Marching with Communists and supporting their activities has resulted in five members leaving our little church. We should leave lobbying to our members contacting our elected representatives and use the money spent on the DC office for mission work. We also need to return to a belief in the Bible, deny the false relegion of evolution and recognize God as Creator and Redeemer.
    show more show less

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