If you were in church a few weeks ago, this is going to sound familiar, but I think it bears repeating. Amid all the stories, confusion, hurt feelings, media attention, angst, frustration, and speculation about the future of the United Methodist Church after our recent General Conference, I hope that everyone remembers something. Many of us have watched the ongoing discussions about human sexuality at the General Conference for over a decade. This latest dispute is something that we have anticipated for a long time. But, like many other things, despite the national and international media attention, I don’t think that it changes much at our level in the local church.
What I reminded our congregation a week or two ago, and I repeat here, is that “All ministry is local.” The General Conference never brought anyone to faith in Jesus. Our East Ohio Annual Conference never stood by the graveside of a mourning family and shared words of comfort or offered a hug. Although the mission and ministry of the General and Annual conferences may contribute to those things, in the end, the people that did them, and the people that do everything in our denomination, are ultimately people who belong to local churches. Nobody will ever care about the people in and around Alliance, Ohio like the people who live here. And the same applies to every local church, of every denomination, all over the world. The ministry of Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance, Ohio is to the people around us, and to the people that we care about, and are passionate about, in the mountains of Kentucky, in Sierra Leone, in Liberia, and in other places where the people of our church have made personal relationships with others. Nothing that happened at General Conference changes that.
When I was asked to move to Alliance a year ago, I was keenly aware that the scheduled 2019 Special General Conference could easily be a pivotal moment in the United Methodist Church. I had no idea what would happen, but I was already reading about the work of the Commission for a Way Forward as well as blogs and denominational magazines that were filled with commentary and speculation. There was every possibility that our church might vote to go in one of a variety of directions and might even split in one direction or another. And my decision, even before I agreed to move, was that, most likely, I wasn’t going anywhere. My calling, mission, and ministry is with the local church. Whichever path that the General Conference chose, I knew that if my congregation and I were happy together, I would find a way for us to stay together.
I learned a long time ago that our churches are filled with single, divorced, remarried, and happily married people who disagree about marriage. They are filled with Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, and all kinds of other political affiliations and we disagree about a lot of things. But regardless of our disagreements, we’ve agreed to be a part of this big church family and do everything we can to be the body of Jesus Christ. Even though this is a divisive issue for the General Conference, it isn’t all that different. We have people in our church who are conservative, progressive, moderate, and apathetic and we’ve still managed to be friends and work together for the Kingdom of God. Why? Because, in the end, mission and ministry is always local.
I’m not going anywhere.
Let’s just keep doing what we’ve always done.
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