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New conversations lay groundwork for season of hope Mary Brooke Casad, Feb 18, 2008
Mary Brooke Casad
By Mary Brooke Casad Special Contributor
“The hope of the church is in the quality of our conversations.” —Bishop John Hopkins
Each General Conference is an occasion for hope, and certainly the 2008 General Conference, with its theme boldly proclaiming “A Future with Hope,” is no different.
As I have participated this past quadrennium with the 60 members of The Connectional Table, an entity created by the 2004 General Conference to facilitate conversation and collaboration across the United Methodist Church, I have been encouraged by a fresh stirring of the Holy Spirit.
· The Council of Bishops has given bold leadership by advancing the conversation around the church’s current mission statement, “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ,” to include “for the transformation of the world.” Each bishop reports regularly to the Council on disciple-making efforts in his or her area of episcopal responsibility.
· A year-long conversation between the Council of Bishops, Connectional Table, and General Secretaries Table resulted in Four Areas of Focus: leadership development, new church starts, ministry with the poor and global health. Fed by the Seven Vision Pathways presented by the Council of Bishops, the focus areas have already generated a new spirit of collaboration among the general agencies, annual conferences and local churches. Resources are being aligned to support ministries in these four areas.
· The Connectional Table issued a “State of the Church” report to explore and describe the thoughts, feelings, values and judgments of a cross section of United Methodist laity and clergy. Through the Web site, www.umc.org/stateofthechurch, a worldwide conversation has been enabled.
· Led by Bishop Sally Dyck, a working group produced “Guidelines for Holy Conferencing—What God Expects of Us.” The document, based on similar guidelines used at The Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2007, encourages a different tone in conducting the business of General Conference. The 10 principles focus on respect, civility, mutual understanding and ensuring the sharing of diverse voices and views.
· A Convocation of Extended Cabinets, “Living the United Methodist Way,” brought bishops and the members of their extended cabinets together in the fall of 2007, the first meeting of its kind in 40 years. The 850 attendees were challenged to reclaim their United Methodist identity and follow John Wesley’s General Rules: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”
· Persons with responsibilities for General Conference presentations came together to talk about setting a missional context for the 10-day session, and as a result, the first day will be devoted to the Episcopal Address, Laity Address and first-ever Young Person’s Address. Reminders throughout the course of the conference will continue to challenge the delegates to approach their tasks in an attitude of worshipful work.
The connection of these conversations provides a unique backdrop for this General Conference. I sense a “kairos” moment in the life of a church, a time like no other, when we are truly focused on Christ’s Great Commandment to love one another and Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.
Bishop Janice Huie, president of the Council of Bishops, said last fall at the Convocation of Extended Cabinets, “Imagine what could happen if all of us, by the grace of God, start to move in the same direction.” The conversations of the past quadrennium are certainly a positive indicator that such movement is beginning to happen.
Will the delegates to the 2008 General Conference resort to “business as usual” banter or will they reframe the conversation to truly become the church God is calling us to be in the 21st century?
I pray that we will “walk the talk.”
Ms. Casad is executive secretary of The Connectional Table.