I was having breakfast with a friend recently, discussing many things including his career, breakfast food, and the state of our denomination. After we shared our laments over the divide and potential schism in The United Methodist Church, he shared a story from his life.
He can remember a time working with an organization that had a governing board. They were in the process of hiring a new director for the organization. After the interviews and vote, one person was chosen to be the new director, but by only a few votes. When asked if this lack of an unanimous vote would be a problem for the potential new hire, the new hire responded, “No, I need unity, not uniformity. The board doesn’t need to agree with everything I do (uniformity), but we do need to be united in where we are headed.”
This friend has been an active member of the United Methodist Church longer than I have been alive. He then shared, “I don’t understand all this talk about dividing the denomination. We don’t have to be uniform on everything, we never will, but we do need to be united.”
There’s a lot of truth in those words. It is my hope and the hope of many, many others, that we remain a “united” Methodist Church. I haven’t shared any writings about General Conference during or following the event. There have been many, possibly too many, opinions shared on the matter. I reluctantly share these thoughts today only because I truly believe God is calling us to unity.
As I have prayed, talked with clergy colleagues, and reflected on the future and the current state of our denomination, I continue to sense a desire for unity. I understand that many others don’t see our future that way. There are many clergy colleagues who don’t understand why we are still united. Yet, they are still in ministry in the one United Methodist Church. I see the Bishops working tirelessly to keep us together. I even saw the voting members of General Conference work to be united asking for the Bishops to guide us.
Our denomination is attempting to show the larger culture and world how to disagree and still live together. There are times that we could have done better in our dialogue. Anger, resentment, and even the occasional name calling, have happened between people and parties. Yet, we are showing the world that we seek the unity and peace of Jesus Christ. In a world of division and anger, especially in many denominations, our church continues to be an example of walking together. It is certainly challenging at times, but schism is painful and comes at a great cost.
I don’t know what the Bishops will propose, nor do I really have any idea what the future of the church will look like. This is not a blog post about answers really. It’s a post about my desire for unity. The clergy and the laity of The United Methodist Church have never entirely agreed on every single point of theology, biblical interpretation, political view, or worship style. You can walk into a church with praise music or pipe organs, jeans or robes, lots of prayer or a little, and still be a part of the one United Methodist Church.
We’re not the “Uniform Methodist Church”. We don’t all have to think completely the same, or worship exactly the same, or even live out our call in the same exact way; but we are united in our commitment to Jesus Christ, to make the world a better place, and help others know the grace and peace of God in Jesus. We are stronger together. We are better together. We need each other. We need those who are leaning more conservative, progressive, or any where in between to be united, maybe not uniform, but united in this one church we call home.
We’re not the “Uniform Methodist Church”, but we are The United Methodist Church.