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Delegates urge hope for denomination’s future (UM News)

March 18, 2022

More than 275 General Conference delegates and other church leaders released an open letter March 18 that shares their hopes for the denomination’s future and their commitment to stay United Methodist. 

“Ministry is happening now!” said the Letter to the Connection upon the Postponement of General Conference. “With each of you, we will do the work of Christ that will lead our church into Easter resurrection.”

Most of the signers come from across the United States. Other United Methodists are invited to sign.

The Rev. Eric Swanson, a delegate from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, said he and the letter’s other writers wanted to present a positive vision while acknowledging there is still work to do.

“We care deeply about the future of The United Methodist Church,” said Swanson, lead pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Pekin, Illinois. “We care that it continues to grow and is prospering, and that it’s strengthening effective witness in ministry.”

In the letter, signers commit to healing the wounds caused by division. 

The letter also says signers will:

  • “Hold in our hearts our LGBTQIA siblings and commit to the celebration and welcome of all God’s children, now.
  • “Commit to prayerfully and steadfastly dismantling the sins of racism, tribalism and colonialism.
  • “Envision and will work toward a church that is regional in structure, where United Methodists in Africa, Europe, the Philippines and North America can do ministry based on their own cultural context.
  • “Commit to practicing Wesley’s advice — ‘Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?’ Recognizing the theological and cultural diversity in our church, we commit to moving forward with a focus on the ministry that unites us.”

The letter signers also join with the United Methodist bishops’ “Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church” in committing to be “… one people, rooted in Scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love and united in the essentials.”

The letter points out that it arrives during Lent, a somber season of repentance and remembering Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The letter also comes at a time of anxiety for many United Methodists. 

The Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, a delegate from the Michigan Conference, said she hopes the letter will help people think about what they can do without legislation. She is the chief connectional ministries officer for the Connectional Table, a leadership body that backs legislation to create new regional structures in the denomination. But even as that legislation awaits consideration, she said United Methodists have work to do. 

“We can continue to build relationships. We can repair trust. We can claim and ground ourselves in identity,” she said. “We can begin to imagine the future of our church. Such visioning work is crucial. If we can’t imagine it, we can’t achieve it. We have to start thinking now about who we are becoming.” 

The Rev. Dalton Rushing, a delegate from the North Georgia Conference, said it was a no-brainer to join in signing the letter. 

“I hope fellow United Methodists will take heart. If anything, the pandemic has helped me see the resilience and flexibility of God’s people,” said Rushing, the senior pastor of Decatur First United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Katie Dawson, a letter signer and delegate from the Iowa Conference, said congregants at Immanuel United Methodist Church in Des Moines have started this year revisiting who they are as United Methodists. 

“It has helped us to remember our task to be united in the essentials and to think theologically, to put faith into action, to claim the freedom and power God gives us to resist oppression and exclusion,” said Dawson, the congregation’s lead pastor. “I think all of that has helped to re-center and recommit ourselves to the daily work before us.”