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Commentary: A vision for an inclusive church

A UMNS Commentary
By Bishop Linda Lee*
May 18, 2007

As we celebrate the season of Pentecost, we recall the birth of Christ’s church in Acts 2, when people of many lands—diverse in their tongues and traditions—gathered, not knowing what awesome miracle and transformation was about to happen.

Many similarly diverse United Methodists will also gather in this season of annual conferences, not knowing what miracles and transformations may occur in the midst and in the wake of their deliberations.

We can only hope that God’s Holy Spirit will likewise come upon us, invading our meeting places and infusing us with its inexplicable power to inspire our meager ministrations and make us like those first Christians.

Bishop Linda Lee

Will our worship, fellowship, evangelism, selfless outreach and spiritual nurture take on new, surprising vitality, just as it did for our ancestors in the faith? What signs will we witness—and indeed, perform—in our gatherings and in the months that ensue to give proof that the spirit of our convictions has become flesh?

Perhaps those signs will emerge from our racial, ethnic and cultural diversity, as on the day of Pentecost. Perhaps that will again be the context for the Holy Spirit’s work among us, as we discover unity in our diversity and as we honor that diversity by electing leaders for and from our conferences to serve the church of Jesus Christ among the people called United Methodist. We can only hope.

When our denomination gathers to elect leaders and pass legislation at our spring 2008 General Conference, and when our U.S. jurisdictions gather that summer to elect bishops, how diverse and healthy will the fruit of this season’s annual conferences be? Will our U.S. delegations and elected leaders resemble the Acts 2 church and provide the same inclusive representation that welcomed and manifested the visitation of the Holy Spirit in that day? Again, we can only hope.

But perhaps we can do more than merely hope. Through our prayers, promotion, advocacy and monitoring for racial/ethnic inclusiveness, we can be intentional about encouraging our annual conferences to vote for diversity.

In our balloting processes, we must help clergy and lay members be sensitive to the need and dedicated to the goal of inclusiveness, as together we seek to affirm our denomination’s call and commitment to that sacred principle.

The United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race is mandated to challenge the church "to a full and equal participation of the racial and ethnic constituency in the total life and mission of the Church … so as to further ensure racial inclusiveness." (Book of Discipline 2000, Section XIV, Paragraph 2002)

Our Inclusiveness Counts! campaign, a partnership with conference commissions on religion and race and other supporters, is one attempt to fulfill that mandate, as we encourage sisters and brothers to vote for diversity when they vote for delegates, bishops and other leaders of the church.

The burgeoning racial/ethnic minority presence in our nation—including recent immigrants—now totals about one-third of the U.S. population. Truly, we are witnesses that today, to update John Wesley’s claim, the world is in our parish.

If we want to increase our denomination’s membership among these groups, we must remember that becoming more inclusive in our leadership and our legislation is crucial to that goal. That means including the voices, concerns and perspectives of racial/ethnic leaders in the deliberations of our General and jurisdictional conferences.

We hope that as annual conferences elect their delegates, they will try to reflect not the limited diversity of their congregations but the rich diversity of their communities and the vision of inclusiveness many of us desire to see in our denomination. If we strive for that goal, we will realize the vision and miracle of Pentecost anew: a global church where all God’s children have a seat and a voice at our common table, and where we can all acknowledge in truth that inclusiveness does count.

*Lee is president of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race and leader of The United Methodist Church’s Wisconsin Annual (regional) Conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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