Facing the Un-Tied Methodist Church

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Ignorance is not bliss. It’s not good to be unaware of what is happening.

That’s why I’m going to be blitzing you with information over the next few weeks about the General Conference of the United Methodist Church which is meeting in St. Louis from Feb. 23-26.

This could be an historic conference, a moment in which the United Methodist Church (UMC) as we have known it for fifty years will cease to be, or change in significant ways, or descend into further certainty.

The presenting issue is, of course, the church’s official stance on the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the full ministry of the church. According to the UMC’s Book of Discipline, our primary book of law, homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and therefore, same-sex weddings may not be performed by UM clergy nor take place in UM churches. Furthermore, “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” may not be ordained.

Several years ago, Kessler Park UMC voted to align with the Reconciling Ministries Network and register its complaint with the church’s stance, though we have continued to live under, and abide by, the denomination’s rules.

At the church’s last big global gathering, the 2016 General Conference, attempts to change the language in the Discipline failed (again), and delegates began to talk openly of schism. In a desperate attempt to keep that from happening, delegates pleaded with the bishops to take an active role in leading the denomination forward. The bishops responded by proposing to form a commission with the sole task of exploring and recommending a plan to hold the denomination together in spite of the division.

This plan was adopted, the commission formed, the plan recommended, and now the church will meet to hear it and decide if it is truly the way forward for United Methodists. 

Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that. For one, the commission forwarded three different plans to the bishops. The bishops ultimately chose one called the “One Church Plan,” but included in their report the other two plans. A number of dissenting bishops argued that all three plans ought to be considered by the General Conference, and their argument was upheld by the Judicial Council.

Here is a (too) brief summary of plans being presented to General Conference, including one which didn’t come from the bishops:

One Church Plan: This plan would allow local churches and clergy to decide for themselves whether they will perform same-sex weddings, and would allow annual conferences to decide whether they will ordained LGBTQ people, and would not impose penalties on either.

Connectional Conferences Plan: This plan would create three different large all-encompassing “connectional conferences” in the United States: a traditionalist conference, a moderate conference, and a progressive conference. Each local church and clergy person would decide in which conference they wanted to be included. 

Traditionalist Plan/Modified Traditionalist Plan: These plans would maintain the prohibitive language against homosexuality and put severe penalties in place for churches, clergy, and bishops who do not comply. All conferences, bishops and clergy would have to certify their adherence to the Book of Discipline or face expulsion.

Simple Plan: This plan removes all prohibitive language against homosexuality from the Book of Discipline. Simple! But unlikely to pass.

Last Monday night, I gave a more comprehensive summary of the plans, as well as a preview of the upcoming General Conference in my Facebook Live appearance. It’s still available for viewing on the Kessler Park UMC Facebook page.

I will be appearing on Facebook Live each of the next two Monday nights at 9 pm with updates and analysis of the General Conference. You’re invited to join me to hear what’s happening.

Also, I have added a new page on the church website with information about General Conference, including links to groups connected to each plan, and sources of news throughout Conference. I’ve also posted a link to the live stream so you can watch what happens in real time.

We’ll have the live stream broadcast in the Fellowship Hall on Tuesday all day, so you can come and watch with staff and other church members. Together we can watch, pray, and celebrate or mourn the proceedings.

On the Sunday after General Conference, you’re invited to stay after worship for lunch during which I will do an extended presentation on what happened and what it means for Kessler Park UMC. We might even be joined by a delegate who attended the meeting; stay tuned for details!

Finally, I want to sincerely ask that we engage in serious and intentional prayer before and during the conference. That’s why we have decided to have a prayer vigil; the meeting will last for a total of 82 hours across four days. We’re looking for people to sign up to pray for a total of 82 hours during that same time period. You don’t need to pray at the church; you can pray in the privacy of your own home at any time which is most convenient. But we do want to make sure that we have people praying for a total of 82 hours. To sign up for the vigil, click here

If you don’t know how to pray for an hour, or would like some guidance, Ken Kelley has prepared a guide to prayer which will be available this Sunday at worship, and will be posted to the website this weekend.

This is not a time to panic or become anxious; it’s a time to pray and to wait to see what God will do through the people called United Methodists, and through those of us who are part of Kessler Park UMC.

What Churches Can Learn From Dying Newspapers

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I’ve finally done something I was determined not to do, something that sounded so outrageous as to be almost blasphemous. I thought I would never change my principles, but everything came crashing down in my world a few weeks ago —

I cancelled my subscription to the Dallas Morning News.

Before you pick up that stone, please give me a chance to explain myself. I am a child of print journalism. I helped start the newspaper at Allen High School years ago, then I worked summers at the local rag, Allen American. For a period during college, I was the sports editor for that twice-weekly publication.

I chose to study broadcast journalism in college, which eventually morphed into an interest in film production, but I have never lost my appreciation and passion for the newspaper. In fact, during seminary, I was a regular contributor to the DMN’s Religion section, which was a weekly section of 6-8 pages once upon a time.

Furthermore, I, too, am someone who likes to read the paper in the morning with a cup of coffee. But those days are long gone. Lately, I’m lucky if it takes me half a cup of joe to get through the whole thing. Face it — the paper is pretty thin these days.

It started a good number of years ago, when I began to notice that many of the stories on the front page were written by the legendary reporter, “From Wire Reports.” Less and less of the copy was written by people with names who live and work in Dallas.

Then I started to recognize much of the paper’s content because I had read it the day before, online from another source! For the first time, the day’s paper started to feel like old news.

Not to mention the fact that I found the DMN to have far too little coverage of film, TV and music, and far too many recipes, gardening tips, and health-related info-ads. Unfortunately, I’ve never been interested in the comics page either.

Still, I held on. For one thing, the DMN was the best place to get local news, though maybe not as incisive and investigative as Jim Schutze and the Dallas Observer folks. And you couldn’t beat the Sports page either, unless you listened to The Ticket or The Fan, or kept up with any number of sports blogs or online sites.

The last straw came a few weeks ago, when the paper slashed its staff — again — and then promptly trimmed a few more pages from their daily product — again! The editorial and opinion section, which held down the last two inside pages of the front section, was reduced to one measly page. The only entertainment writer I liked (Chris Vognar) was sent packing, and so was sportswriter Eddie Sefko.

And I decided I was done.

This is not a proud moment for me, but the Morning News has done nothing to keep me around. I would like to support local print journalism, which I think plays a vital role in keeping government accountable, citizens engaged, and communities united. But sadly the paper no longer does those things well.

Print journalism can blame the internet or television or social media, but the truth is that certain journalism outlets have thrived in the new environment. They have adjusted with the times, and adapted to new mediums, new subscription models, and new ways of attracting talent.

I’m just sad that the Dallas Morning News has not been one of them. I still want great journalism, but I get it elsewhere now. That’s the way capitalism works — for better or for worse.

Now, let me challenge you to switch mental gears. Just as there are lots of people now canceling their subscriptions to printed newspapers, there are even more people out there who are no longer going to church. The reasons are similar.

They may have grown up going to church, and appreciating church, and having rich experiences with church. But over time, they noticed that the church was no longer meeting their spiritual and social needs. They wanted to support their local churches, which they think should play a vital role in fostering encounters with God, explaining and interpreting the Bible, and building fellowship. But sadly they have come to the conclusion that the church no longer does those things well.

Over time, people began to sense that there were more authentic ways to experience God, interact with Scripture, and enjoy Christian community. As the modern millennial might put it, “I still want spirituality, but I get Jesus elsewhere now.”

Churches can blame the internet or television or social media, but the truth is that certain congregations have thrived in the new environment. They have adjusted with the times, and adapted to new mediums, new models of ministry, and new ways of paying the bills.

As the special General Conference in St. Louis nears, the question looms large before us: Will the United Methodist Church go the way of the Dallas Morning News and print journalism, or will it find ways to thrive in the new world?

What about Kessler Park UMC?

Introducing Our New Youth Pastor

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I am beyond proud to introduce the church family to our new youth pastor — and my middle daughter! As you may all know, we’ve been without a youth staff person since Eva Englert-Jessen left us last Easter. To be honest, we’ve had a dearth of applications and interested persons since then.

Then Chloe showed some interest, and I encouraged her to submit her resume. Since the Staff-Parish Relations Committee made its decision a few weeks ago, Chloe has started making plans.

Here’s a brief introduction to Chloe in her own words:

Hello! My name is Chloe Magruder. I am currently studying at the University of Texas at Arlington for a degree in English and I will be graduating this May with a teaching certificate.

I am looking forward to helping the youth of the church grow in their faith and leadership in the community. Growing up, I was a member of two very amazing youth groups, with leaders and students who helped me understand myself and my faith. All of my middle and high school years, I spent a week at Bridgeport Camp and Conference Center worshipping and creating friendships that will last me a lifetime. I am now a volunteer every year and have gained countless skills to lead a small group of humans that want to further their relationship with God.

Being a part of a youth group was such a large part of my teenage years and I want to be able to give our youth the same opportunities that I was blessed with, and more.

While I serve as the youth pastor, I would like to focus on the individual development of each youth in who they are before they are sent off into the world post-graduation. I am looking forward to getting to know every single person in this church even more and working to make our youth feel at home at Kessler Park UMC.

To reach Chloe Magruder, you can contact her at chloe@kpumc.org.