My friend and colleague, Rev. Amy Wagner, led our delegation early this morning in a time of prayer and reflection. Amy borrowed an image from Richard Rohr—specifically, the image of “replanting grace”—to move us more deeply into a contemplation of where it is in our own individual lives that we most desperately need a fresh “replanting” of God’s life-giving grace.
Personally, I am most in need of a grace-filled replanting in my pastoral ministry and leadership. More specifically, I long for a new experience of grace that will generate within me a healthier confidence in spite of my inadequacies; a healthier joy in spite of my self-doubt; and a healthier vision in spite of my deficiencies in leadership. My prayer this morning became something like this: “Replant within me, O God, a grace that will equip and inspire me to be a faithful pastor and friend to the exceptional congregation that I am privileged to serve.”
In today’s morning worship service, Bishop Sally Dyck offered a provocative sermon that challenged all of us to “go learn mercy.” What made Bishop Dyck’s sermon particularly noteworthy was her allusion to the fact that “only one category of people do we declare to be incompatible with Christian teaching” (a reference to the United Methodist Book of Discipline’s language about the practice of homosexuality). Bishop Dyck went on to express her desire that nothing (or no one) be singled out in the Book of Discipline as being “incompatible with Christian teaching” and that we would all recognize our shared fallenness and our shared need for God’s saving grace.
For those who desire a change in the church’s current teaching related to homosexuality, Bishop Dyck’s proclamation came as a liberating word of profound hope. For those who support the denomination’s current position, however, the Bishop’s words sounded more like a stark dishonoring of a long-held denominational conviction related to the stewardship that one is to practice over his or her sexuality.
Immediately following Bishop Dyck’s sermon, I engaged in a conversation with some of my colleagues. The conversation focused on hard things: the difference between mercy and acceptance of a particular behavior; the crucial connection between compassion and accountability; the demanding relationship between the pursuit of holiness and the language of “incompatibility.” In many ways, the conversation I experienced today was a reflection of the larger struggle in which our denomination currently finds itself. Bishop Dyck’s sermon took us straight to the broken heart that beats somewhere in the middle of that struggle.
It may be that some of you who are reading this are deeply and meaningfully troubled and unnerved because you have never experienced a church gathering in which human sexuality was so specifically named and debated. Or maybe you are seeing disruptive social media sound bites in the Facebook news feed that leave you wondering why the church is focusing on these matters. If this describes you at all, please know that I am prayerfully standing alongside you in the journey; that Jesus Christ is still Lord of creation and head of the church; and that God will provide a way through that is grounded in radical patience, relentless compassion, and profound obedience. Hang in there, friends. Jesus is in the messiness of all of this, doing something creatively redemptive and good.
The highlight of the day for me was the Laity Address in which a number of beautifully-gifted lay persons reminded us afresh that, if there is going to be authentic revival in the church, it will come, not primarily through the clergy, but through the laity. It has always been that way throughout the church’s history. Particularly moving today was the testimony of 14-year-old Hannah Foust, who stood before the entire General Conference and described the manner in which her heart was drawn to the suffering of many people in the West African country of Burkina Faso, where sources of clean water are scarce. Through her individual efforts, Hannah has funded three wells in Burkina Faso, thereby providing clean water for thousands of people. Her motivation? “Jesus, the Living Water, has called me to change the world through funding wells. He brought people from the other side of the world into my heart, and he is using me to help them in their hurting.”
Yep. That’s Jesus. That’s church.
I spent about six hours in my Discipleship legislative committee this afternoon. We acted on about 1/3 of the 52 petitions that have been entrusted to our care, which is an excellent start. The work that we did today as a legislative committee will lead to better and clearer training for lay persons who feel called to deepen their ministry. Beyond this, we clarified legislation that will hopefully result in life-changing ministry through the Native American Comprehensive Plan and an important initiative called “Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.”
The evening concluded with a beautiful banquet that celebrated the ministry of the laity of the United Methodist Church. As I sat at the banquet, weary and deep in thought, it occurred to me how blessed I am to know Jesus and to experience the remarkable things that he is doing through his people.