|Change raises trust issues in church|
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
May 15, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
Five years ago, The United Methodist Church created a new body – the
Connectional Table – to be stewards of the church’s ministries, mission
and money, and to help run the denomination more effectively between
quadrennial General Conferences.
This year, amid a global economic crisis that is shrinking church
finances, the Council of Bishops is calling for the creation of another
group to oversee the work of the church and present a plan for
reordering the life of the denomination. The task given to the proposed
steering committee sounds a lot like the mandate given the Connectional
Table by the 2004 General Conference.
Bishop Marcus Matthews
Now, some church members are wondering whether the new committee is
necessary, as bishops’ council President Gregory V. Palmer said, to
help the church be more nimble and responsive to rapid changes in the
denomination and the economy. Or is the creation of a new body a sign
of a larger issue in the church and society, a lack of trust in
institutions in a time of relative famine?
The issue of trust came up repeatedly in roundtable conversations at the May 12-14 meeting of the 60-member Connectional Table.
New York West Bishop Marcus Matthews said people were “raising suspicion as if somebody is not trusting us to do our work.”
When a group comes into existence and does not operate in the
traditional way, “what we tend to do in the church is create another
group that will hopefully do what that other group was supposed to be
doing,” Matthews said.
The bishops’ call for a steering committee to lead the church “is where
the issue of trust seems to be evident in this arena,” he said. “There
is the fear among many that it will be a power thing.”
In a May 13 presentation to a joint session of the Connectional
Table and United Methodist Council on Finance and Administration,
Palmer said the current economic crisis has uncovered a need for bold
action that will reorder church structure. The current 1970s
organization is “not sufficient, nimble or responsive to the
fast-changing 21st century,” he said.
The bishops’ proposal calls for a steering committee of bishops and
agency executives to design a plan for reordering the church. The plan
will be presented to the November 2009 meetings of the Council of
Bishops and the Connectional Table. “This is not a done deal,” Palmer
An unprecedented time
The challenges facing the church around declining memberships and
budget shortfalls exacerbate issues of trust, some leaders say.
“The church is in an unprecedented time,” East Ohio Bishop John Hopkins said.
“We know that change is necessary, but whenever there is a time of
change, there is the question of who is in charge of change and how is
it going to affect me,” he said.
“Working through conflict sometimes damages trust in personal
relationships,” said Jay Brim of Austin, Texas. When one worries about
someone “being on our side,” he said, “we lose track of the fact that
we are all believers and working toward building disciples in the
The Connectional Table itself is a relatively new entity that is
learning how to trust, value opinions and ministries and establish
relationships among those coming from different backgrounds,
perspectives and ideologies in the church, said the Rev. Deborah McLeod
of Jacksonville, Fla.
The Rev. Deborah McLeod
“At the Connectional Table there is an underlying distrust, but I
believe we are working and are committed to one mission together,” she
said. “I think the way forward is to focus, not on our own interests,
but on the mission of the church. … We have excellent leaders who are
helping us focus on the mission.”
According to the Rev. Gregory Stover of Cincinnati, “a lack of trust is
part of our human condition and comes out of concern for ourselves.”
Some church officials said the issue extends far beyond the church.
The issue of trust in the United States is “a national crisis that has
infected The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Beverly
Wilkes-Null of O’Fallen, Ill. The lack of trust is part of the human
condition, and the distrust felt today is a result of the economic
situation that has led to a loss of people’s faith in government on the
local and national levels.
“There is an erosion of trust, period,” she said.
A U.S. problem
The Rev. Oyvind Helliesen, a United Methodist from Stavanger, Norway,
said there is more distrust in The United Methodist Church in the
United States than anywhere else in the denomination.
“The church in the U.S. is more divided and more political than the
rest of denomination,” he said. In the case of the Connectional Table,
“one of the problems is that people are feeling that they are
representing some church group and are bringing that background into
the table instead of being here as the person they are, not
representing anybody,” Helliesen said. “For the rest of the
denomination, as I know it, I don’t feel distrust is strong.”
In his own Northern Europe Conference, Helliesen said, liberals and
conservatives have learned to live together and trust each other.
“There is something in this country that has built mistrust against
people,” he said.
The Rev. Beverly Wilkes-Null
When distrust is the problem, faith is the solution, church leaders said.
“My trust is about my relationship with God, who has entrusted me with
stewardship of myself and of others,” Wilkes-Null said. “Our default
button is mistrust because of what we go through politically, socially
and economically. We allow those three arenas to override our religious
and spiritual selves.”
She said if people allow their religious selves to “become the default
button, anxiety levels will be reduced, and I believe trust will rise.”
Grace and truth overcome distrust, said the Rev. Eddie Fox of Hermitage, Tenn.
“One of things we must do to have trust is to have faithfulness and
fidelity to the covenant that binds us together,” he said. “Whenever we
break the covenant, we sow seeds of distrust.”
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
New group will study church’s worldwide nature
Connectional Table hones vision for next four years
Palmer says church is in ‘sweet spot’ for change
The Connectional Table
Council of Bishops